N° 74 | January 2013

Adolescents who eat regular meals eat more fruit and vegetables

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It is important for children and adolescents to eat fruit and vegetables (F&V) every day. Some studies show that regular meals may contribute to a higher intake of F&V1 while others studies disagree2. Further, the situation may be different for boys and girls in different age groups. Therefore, we aimed to study the association between the regular consumption of breakfast, lunch and evening meals, and the intake of F&V among boys and girls in different age groups.

3,913 Danish students aged 11, 13 and 15

The present questionnaire study included adolescents age 11, 13 and 15 years from a random sample of schools in Denmark. The data collection constituted the Danish contribution to the international Health Behaviour in Schoolaged Children study in 20023. The sample included 3,913 students. F&V intake were measured separately by a food frequency questionnaire. The participants also answered questions about frequency of breakfast, lunch and evening meals during a regular week. We defined irregular breakfast and lunch as consuming the meal on less than four weekdays per week and irregular evening meals as less than five weekdays per week. The associations with F&V, respectively, were analysed for each meal type separately by using multiple logistic regression analyses, stratified by gender and age.

Adolescents who take irregular meals have a lower consumption of F & V

Overall we found that adolescents with irregular consumption of breakfast, lunch and evening meal had low frequency of F&V intake. Only for irregular evening meal consumption we found no association. Analyses conducted for boys and girls separately showed that the associations between irregular breakfast consumption and both F&V intake remained statistically significant only among girls. Irregular lunch consumption was strongly associated with both F&V intake among both boys and girls. Analyses conducted in the different age groups separately revealed different patterns. In general terms, irregular meal consumption seemed to be more strongly associated with low frequency of F&V intake among older students compared to younger students. This was especially evident for irregular breakfast consumption. For irregular lunch and evening meal consumption, more varying patterns were observed by age.

Age and family influence on F&V consumption

The varying patterns observed between the different age groups indicate that irregular meals seems to be a less serious risk factor for low F&V intake among younger adolescents compared to older adolescents. A possible explanation could be that younger children and adolescents, despite having irregular meal consumption, are still offered F&V on other occasions and in varying settings and that parental influence and control over what they eat, still exists. As children grow older, they become increasingly independent of their parents, and the family influences on eating behaviour diminish.

Nordic children have a healthier diet

The observation that regular meals may be a general indicator of a healthy diet may reflect typical Nordic eating patterns. From previous studies we know that Nordic children have a higher consumption of raw vegetables compared to other European children4. The present study indicates that in Denmark vegetables are often eaten by adolescents at lunch - a finding that is consistent with previous descriptions of Danish adolescents’ meal habits5.

Regular meal consumption should be promoted among adolescents

From a public health perspective, the results of the present study indicate the relevance of promoting regular meal consumption as part of an overall strategy for healthy nutritional habits among adolescents. The results of the present study also point to the relevance of ensuring that initiatives to promote regular meal consumption among adolescents are tailored towards boys and girls and consciously taking into account the relevance of age.

BASED ON: Pedersen TP, Meilstrup C, Holstein BE, Rasmussen E. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with frequency of breakfast, lunch and evening
meal: cross-sectional study of 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2012, 9:9.

  1. Sjoberg A, Hallberg L, Hoglund D, Hulthen L: Meal pattern, food choice, nutrient intake and lifestyle factors in The Goteborg Adolescence Study. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2003, 57:1569-1578.
  2. Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Perry C, Story M: Correlates of fruit and vegetable intake among adolescents. Findings from Project EAT. Prev Med 2003, 37:198-208.
  3. Roberts C, Freeman J, Samdal O, Schnohr CW, de Looze ME, Nic GS, Iannotti R, Rasmussen M: The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: methodological developments and current tensions. Int J Public Health 2009, 54 Suppl 2:140-150.
  4. Yngve A, Wolf A, Poortvliet E, Elmadfa I, Brug J, Ehrenblad B, Franchini B, Haraldsdottir J, Krolner R, Maes L et al. Fruit and vegetable intake in a sample of 11-year-old children in 9 European countries: the Pro Children cross-sectional survey. Ann Nutr Metab, 2005;49:236-245.
  5. Fagt S, Christensen T, Groth MV, Biltoft-Jensen M, Matthiessen J, Trolle E: [Children and adolescents meal habits 2000-2004. Copenhagen; 2007
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