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J Adolesc Health. 1998 Jan;22(1):29-36.

Three squares or mostly snacks--what do teens really eat? A sociodemographic study of meal patterns.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 27516-3997, USA.



To categorize U.S. adolescents' meal patterns and related differences in dietary quality.


Using data from the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals, 1989-1991, meal patterns from 3 days of adolescents' (ages 11-18 years) intake (n = 1310) were examined. Consistency of meal pattern intake and associated nutrient quality was determined. Logistic regression was used to examine the effects of several sociodemographic characteristics on meal pattern consistency.


A higher percentage of adolescents consumed a meal pattern that included 3 meals/day than any other meal pattern: 57.4-58.7% on any given day. Forty-one percent of adolescents fell into the consistent (at least two meals on all 3 days), and only 3.5% fell into the inconsistent meal (one meal, with or without snacks, or snacks only, on all 3 days) pattern category. Logistic regression results indicated that being black [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 4.19, 95% confidence interval (CI) (1.90, 9.27)], older (15-18) [AOR = 1.41, 95% CI (1.19, 1.67)], and from a single-parent household [AOR = 2.60, 95% CI (1.23, 5.52)] were predictive of an inconsistent meal pattern. School lunch has a positive impact on intake, increasing a consistent meal pattern from 36.0% to 44.9%.


Adolescents who consume at least two meals (with or without snacks) on a consistent basis have an adequate intake of calories and a more nutrient-dense diet with respect to calcium, iron, vitamin E, and fiber than those with other meal patterns. From the perspective of following a diet to prevent chronic diseases in adulthood, adolescents regardless of meal pattern, consume a diet that is too high in fat, sodium, and protein, and too low in fiber.

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