Children's meal patterns have changed over a 21-year period: the Bogalusa Heart Study

J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 May;104(5):753-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2004.02.030.


Objective: The objective of this study was to analyze children's meal patterns over 2 decades.

Design: One 24-hour dietary recall was collected on each child who participated in one of seven cross-sectional surveys.

Subjects/setting: Dietary intake data were collected on 1,584 10-year-old children (65% white, 35% African American), in Bogalusa, LA, from 1973 to 1994.

Statistical analyses: Descriptive statistics and one-way analysis of variance adjusting for gender and ethnicity.

Results: From 1973 to 1978, there was a marked increase (P<.0001) in the percentage of children who skipped breakfast, from 8.2% to 29.6%. When school breakfast was introduced in 1981, the proportion of children skipping breakfast declined to 12.5% (P<.01). From 1973-1974 to 1993-1994, the percentage of children eating a school lunch declined from 89.7% (1973-1974) to 78.2% (1993-1994) (P<.001); eating lunch brought from home increased from 5.9% to 11.1% (P<.01); consuming a home dinner decreased from 89.2% to 75.9% (P<.01); eating a dinner prepared outside the home increased from 5.4% to 19.0% (P<.01); consuming a meal at a restaurant increased from 0.3% to 5.4% (P<.0001); consuming snacks decreased (P<.0001); total eating episodes decreased from 6.6 to 5.2 (P<.0001); and eating time span significantly decreased from 12.4 hours to 11.5 hours (P<.0001). Despite these changes in meal patterns, no associations were found between meal patterns and overweight status.

Conclusions: Striking alterations in the meal patterns of children occurred over the 2-decade period. These changes may have implications for the changes in the dietary intakes of children during the same time. However, data from this study do not support an association between meal patterns and children's overweight status. Further research with multiple days of assessment is needed to better understand the complexity of diet as it relates to childhood obesity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • African Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / trends*
  • Diet Surveys
  • Eating
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feeding Behavior* / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Louisiana / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Obesity / epidemiology*