Quinn on Nutrition: Changing trends in eating behavior

February 2, 2015

What has changed in America over the past 40 years? More women have entered the work force; we eat more meals away from home; we drink more soda, flavored coffees and other sweetened beverages; and more Americans are overweight than at any time in our history.

During this period, we have also relaxed our traditional norms of eating, say researchers in a detailed study on this topic in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As society has changed, we have modified when, where and how much we eat. And these trends may offer some clues to our current health woes. Here are some highlights:

Nutrition data over the past four decades, specifically between 1971 and 2010, show that fewer Americans now eat three main meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — each day. Yet we tend to consume more calories in the meals that we do eat.

We now eat fewer calories at breakfast and lunch; and we consume more calories from snacks; almost a fourth of our total daily calories now come from the snacks that we eat. We especially consume more calories from snacks between lunch and dinner as well as in the evening after dinner.

Interestingly, the interval between our dinner time and the time we eat an evening snack has become shorter. In other words, we start raiding the kitchen sooner after dinner than we did in the years since 1971.

Do we see any relationships here? Although these researchers did not find huge differences in our eating habits over these past decades, they point to some studies that show greater weight gains in people who eat more calories late in the day. And interestingly, during these years of changing social norms, they found greater differences in snacking behaviors in women than they did in men.

So here we are. We can’t set back the clock; but perhaps this is a good time to make regular meals, spaced appropriately throughout the day, a priority. If weight loss is a goal, cut back on the snacks, especially those hunted down later in the day. And when you can, sit down to eat a meal together…at home.




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