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Shared meals among young adults are associated with better diet quality and predicted by family meal patterns during adolescence

  • Nicole Larson (a1), Jayne Fulkerson (a2), Mary Story (a1) and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 03 August 2012

To describe shared meal patterns and examine associations with dietary intake among young adults.


Population-based, longitudinal cohort study (Project EAT: Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults).


Participants completed surveys and FFQ in high-school classrooms in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, USA in 1998–1999 (mean age = 15·0 years, ‘adolescence’) and follow-up measures online or by mail in 2008–2009 (mean age = 25·3 years, ‘young adulthood’).


There were 2052 participants who responded to the 10-year follow-up survey and reported on frequency of having shared meals.


Among young adults, the frequency of shared meals during the past week was as follows: never (9·9 %), one or two times (24·7 %), three to six times (39·1 %) and seven or more times (26·3 %). Having more frequent family meals during adolescence predicted a higher frequency of shared meals in young adulthood above and beyond other relevant sociodemographic factors such as household composition and parental status. Compared with young adults who never had family meals during adolescence, those young adults who reported seven or more family meals per week during adolescence had an average of one additional shared meal per week. Having more frequent shared meals in young adulthood was associated with greater intake of fruit among males and females, and with higher intakes of vegetables, milk products and some key nutrients among females.


Nutrition professionals should encourage families of adolescents to share meals often and establish the tradition of eating together, and work with young adults to ensure that healthy food and beverage choices are offered at mealtimes.

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