Public Release: 

Children's eating patterns show 'striking' changes in two decades

Study reported in Journal of the American Dietetic Association

American Dietetic Association

Meal patterns among children in the United States have undergone "striking alterations" over the past two decades, but changes in kid's meal patterns during that time may not be related to trends toward increased weight among children, according to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Researchers at several institutions including the Baylor College of Medicine analyzed dietary intakes from more than 1,500 children who participated in the Bogalusa Heart Study in Louisiana from 1973 to 1994. Among other findings, the researchers discovered:

  • Between 1973-74 and 1993-94, the percentage of children eating a school lunch declined significantly (from 89.7 percent to 78.2 percent); and eating dinners prepared outside the home jumped (from 5.4 percent to 19 percent).

  • The number of children who consumed five or more snacks in a day went from 30 percent in 1973-74 to 8 percent by 1993-94

  • During the same period, the number of kids who limited themselves to one or two snacks per day went from 25 percent in 1973-74 to 52 percent in 1993-94.

The researchers say they found "no associations ... between meal patterns and overweight status in children." They add that further research is needed to better understand the impact of dietary intakes on the increasing numbers of children who are overweight and at risk for obesity.

"The Bogalusa Heart Study provided valuable insight into what both children and young adults eat and how children's dietary decisions affect their long-term health," said ADA Spokesperson Gail Frank, who designed and directed dietary studies of the Bogalusa study from its beginning in 1972 until 1987. Frank did not participate in the Baylor group's study.

"In-depth and longitudinal research is needed to identify the complex causes of excess weight among children," Frank said. "The 'lack of association' in this analysis may cause some to think what a child eats doesn't matter. But eating does matter, whether or not this study was able to show it statistically.

"It remains important to focus on children's and young adults' meal patterns and their relation to overall dietary quality. This study reminds parents, schools and health professionals to keep nutrition education an important part of life's education in both our schools and homes," Frank said.

###

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of nutrition and dietetics. With nearly 70,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Based in Chicago, ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. Visit ADA at www.eatright.org.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.