Young adults and eating away from home: associations with dietary intake patterns and weight status differ by choice of restaurant

J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Nov;111(11):1696-703. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.08.007.


Background: Young adults report frequent away-from-home eating; however, little is known regarding what types of restaurants are patronized or whether associations with dietary intake and weight status differ according to restaurant type.

Objective: This cross-sectional study in a diverse sample of young adults examines sociodemographic differences in the frequency of eating at different types of fast-food and full-service (server brings food to table) restaurants. In addition, this study examines whether associations between away-from-home eating, dietary intake, and weight status differ according to restaurant type.

Design: There were 1,030 men and 1,257 women (mean age=25.3 years) who participated in Project EAT-III (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults). Participants were members of a longitudinal cohort who completed baseline surveys at schools in Minneapolis/St Paul, MN, and completed the EAT-III surveys online or by mail in 2008-2009.

Main outcome measures: Height, weight, and usual dietary intake were self-reported.

Statistical analyses performed: Regression models adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics were used to examine associations between frequency of restaurant use, dietary intake, and weight status.

Results: More frequent use of fast-food restaurants that primarily served burgers and french fries was associated with higher risk for overweight/obesity; higher intake of total energy, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fat; and with lower intake of healthful foods and key nutrients. For example, those who reported burger-and-fries restaurant use on three or more occasions per week consumed nearly one additional sugar-sweetened beverage per day compared to those who reported burger-and-fries restaurant use on less than one occasion per week. More frequent use of fast-food restaurants that primarily served sandwiches/subs was related to a few markers of poorer diet quality, but unrelated to weight status. More frequent use of full-service restaurants was also unrelated to weight status and related to higher intake of vegetables.

Conclusions: There may be a need for interventions to promote healthier food choices among young adults who report frequent burger-and-fries restaurant use.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Demography
  • Diet Surveys
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Fast Foods / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Restaurants* / classification
  • Restaurants* / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Disclosure
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vegetables


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Sucrose