Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Assessment and methodology

Situational characteristics of young adults’ eating occasions: a real-time data collection using Personal Digital Assistants

Melissa Nelson Laskaa1 c1, Dan Grahama1, Stacey G Moea1, Leslie Lytlea1 and Jayne Fulkersona2

a1 School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 S. 2nd Street – Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA

a2 School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA


Objective To examine (i) situational characteristics of young adults’ eating occasions, including away-from-home eating, social influences and multi-tasking, and (ii) how these characteristics are associated with specific foods/beverages consumed.

Design Participants logged numerous characteristics of eating occasions (n 1237) in real time over 7 d.

Setting Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area (Minnesota, USA).

Subjects Forty-eight participants, aged 18–23 years.

Results Half of all eating occasions (46 %) occurred alone, 26 % occurred while watching television and 36 % involved other multi-tasking. Most participants (63 %) did not think about their food choices in advance of eating occasions. Eating that occurred in the absence of television viewing and/or other multi-tasking was less likely to include sweetened beverages and more likely to include items like water, fruit, vegetables, cereal, grains and entrées. Eating occasions occurring alone, and/or those occurring at home, were more likely to include snack foods that required little preparation (e.g. cookies, baked goods) and less likely to include more traditional meal items (e.g. fruits, vegetables, entrée items).

Conclusions Overall, a large proportion of young adults’ eating occasions occurred alone, while engaging in other activities and with little advanced planning. Although many young adults’ eating occasions consist of a wide range of highly processed, energy-dense, convenience products, more traditional meal settings (i.e. eating at home with others in the absence of multi-tasking) may result in more structured mealtimes and better food choices, such as more fruits and vegetables. Effective behavioural strategies promoting positive eating patterns, including home meal preparation, are urgently needed among young adults.

(Received August 26 2010)

(Accepted October 05 2010)

(Online publication December 08 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email