Convenience trend impacts girls eating behaviour

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Snack food, Meal

Convenience foods eaten on the run continue to experience strong
growth as individuals skip the union meal for a solitary event but
new findings from the US suggest that the security of a family meal
could help steer adolescent girls from eating disorders.

In 2003, out-of-home consumption accounted for 31.6 per cent of all eating occasions in Britain, according to a Datamonitor report, and this figure is set to rise to over 35 per cent by 2008, meaning an additional 3 billion breakfast, lunch and evening meals eaten out-of-home.

But a new study from the University of Minnesota found that girls who ate regular family meals in a structured and positive environment' were less likely to exhibit extreme weight control behaviours such as diet pill use and chronic dieting.

"Since society has so much influence on adolescents because of the high prevalence of obesity and the pressure to be skinny, many girls are turning to unhealthy ways of controlling their weight,"​ said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study.

She studied 4,746 adolescents and interviewed them about their eating habits and how often they ate meals with their families. Girls who ate three to four family meals per week were about one-third at risk of extreme weight control practices and girls who ate five family meals per week about one-fourth of the risk.

. "Prioritising structured family meals that take place in a positive environment can protect girls from destructive eating habits,"​ added the scientists, suggesting that the family meal time could be flexible to include breakfast.

Market data would suggest that society is hurtling towards the convenience culture, at the expense of the family table phenomenon. Pushing the trend of the last five years, breakfast will be the meal most likely to be skipped in Europe, finds the Datamonitor report.

In the UK consumers are already more likely than their European counterparts to miss breakfast: in 2003, British skipped on average 113 breakfasts a year per person, and Datamonitor forecasts this will increase to almost 120 in 2008. By comparison, the French skipped 77 and Germans 72, while the southern Europeans in Italy (41) and Spain (31) appear to be clinging more tightly to traditional eating patterns.

And snacking is gaining in pace. Already well ahead of most of the rest of Europe, the analysts predict that by 2008, British snacking will account for 44 per cent of all eating occasions, with Britons spending a whopping £10.3 billion (€14.7bn) on bakery items, bagged snacks, dairy snacks, fruit and vegetables, and confectionery alone (excluding snacks eaten as part of a meal).

This represents an increase of over 20 per cent on 2003 levels, with Datamonitor forecasting that a typical consumer will snack on 27.4 more occasions in 2008 than 2003.

Full findings for the University of Minnesota study are published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health​.

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