The researchers pointed out that national dietary guidelines often focus almost exclusively on the kinds of foods and nutrients people eat and ignore the context in which they are eaten. However, how and where people eat may be an important factor for overall dietary quality.
“It is important to not only focus on what we eat, but also the wide array of factors surrounding how we eat,” they wrote.
The researchers, led by Dr Melissa Laska at the University of Minnesota’s Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at dietary habits among 1,013 US college and university students. They found that those who took time to prepare meals at home and ate at regular times were more likely to have an overall healthy dietary pattern. Those who watched television or played video games while eating, those who ate on the run, and those who bought food on campus were less likely to have healthy diets.
Participants who ate a regular breakfast and evening meal tended to consume less fast food than those who ate on the run or skipped meals, and they also tended to eat more vegetables and drink fewer sugary drinks.
‘Never eat at work’
The study’s authors cited several international examples of dietary guidelines that incorporate the context of eating, including the Japanese advice to ‘enjoy communication at the table with your family…and participate in the preparation of meals’ and ‘establish a healthy rhythm by keeping regular hours for meals’, and the Hungarian recommendation to ‘eat calmly, never eat when driving or at work’.
They advise encouraging healthy eating patterns to improve dietary quality, including home food preparation and family mealtimes, and avoiding meal skipping and eating on the run.
“Such factors may play an important role in our dietary patterns and in our long-term health, and nutrition messaging around these issues may be understandable and easy to operationalize by the general public,” they wrote.
Source: Public Health Nutrition
Vol. 18, Iss. 12, pp. 2135–2145 10.1017/S1368980014002717
“How we eat what we eat: identifying meal routines and practices most strongly associated with healthy and unhealthy dietary factors among young adults”
Authors: Melissa N Laska, Mary O Hearst, Katherine Lust, Leslie A Lytle and Mary Story