Background: Cross-sectional research in adolescents has found that eating family meals is associated with better nutritional intake.
Objective: To describe meal patterns of young adults and determine if family meal frequency during adolescence is associated with diet quality, meal frequency, social eating, and meal structure during young adulthood.
Design: Population-based, 5-year longitudinal study in Minnesota.
Subjects/setting: Surveys and food frequency questionnaires were completed by 946 female students and 764 male students in high school classrooms at Time 1 (1998-1999; mean age 15.9 years) and by mail at Time 2 (2003-2004; mean age 20.4 years).
Statistical analyses performed: Multiple linear regression models were used to predict mean levels of young adult outcomes from adolescent family meal frequency. Probability testing of trends in each outcome across ordered categories of family meal frequency used linear contrasts.
Results: Family meal frequency during adolescence predicted higher intakes of fruit (P<0.05), vegetables (P<0.01), dark-green and orange vegetables (P=0.001), and key nutrients and lower intakes of soft drinks (P<0.05) during young adulthood. Frequency of family meals also predicted more breakfast meals (P<0.01) in females and for both sexes predicted more frequent dinner meals (P<0.05), higher priority for meal structure (P<0.001), and higher priority for social eating (P<0.001). Associations between Time 1 family meals and Time 2 dietary outcomes were attenuated with adjustment for Time 1 outcomes but several associations were still statistically significant.
Conclusions: Family meals during adolescence may have a lasting positive influence on dietary quality and meal patterns in young adulthood.