JOURNAL ARTICLE

Making time for meals: meal structure and associations with dietary intake in young adults

Nicole I Larson, Melissa C Nelson, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Mary Story, Peter J Hannan
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009, 109 (1): 72-9
19103325

BACKGROUND: Prior studies have found that family meals and other aspects of meal structure are associated with dietary intake during adolescence, but little research has characterized meals in young adulthood.

OBJECTIVE: This study was designed to describe attitudes regarding the social nature of meals, time constraints on meals, and meal regularity in young adults. In addition, this study aimed to describe the sociodemographic characteristics of young adults who report eating dinner with others and "eating on the run," and examine associations of these behaviors with meal attitudes and dietary intake.

DESIGN: Data for this cross-sectional analysis were drawn from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens)-II, the second wave of a Minnesota population-based study.

SUBJECTS/SETTING: Mailed surveys and food frequency questionnaires were completed in 2003-2004 by 1,687 young adult (mean age=20.5 years; 44% male) participants. MAIN OUTCOMES MEASURED AND STATISTICAL ANALYSES PERFORMED: chi(2) tests were calculated to examine differences in meal attitudes and behaviors according to sociodemographic characteristics. Relationships between meal attitudes and behaviors were explored using Spearman's correlation coefficients. Linear regression models adjusted for demographic characteristics were used to examine associations between meal behaviors and dietary intake variables.

RESULTS: The majority of young adults reported they enjoy and value eating with others, but 35% of males and 42% of females reported lacking time to sit down and eat a meal. Eating dinner with others was significantly associated (P</=0.01) with several markers of better dietary intake, including higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, and dark-green and orange vegetables. Eating on the run was significantly associated (P<0.01) with higher intakes of soft drinks, fast food, total fat and saturated fat, and lower intake of several healthful foods.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that health services and programs for young adults should encourage taking the time to sit down for meals and to share meals with others.

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