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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Trends in Meal and Snacking: Does it Effect Nutrient Status?

By Rachel Murphy

Over the last decades, the food environment has shifted in response to demographic, social and technological factors.  Family structures have changed; more women work outside the home, and technology has expanded food processing capabilities and opened a wide variety of venues for consumption (a cupcake vending machine?).  Have these shifts led to changes in eating behavior patterns and nutrient intake?  Body weight continues to creep higher but despite excessive dietary consumption, the prevalence of inadequate intake of micronutrients is greater in obese compared to normal weight adults in the U.S.  Understanding trends in eating behavior and the contribution of meals and snacks to nutrient intakes could be important for identifying opportunities to improve nutrient intake.    

Kant and colleauges used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys spanning nearly 40 years until 2010 to describe the frequency and timing of meals and snacks, as well as the contribution to energy intake over the course of a day. Over time, the number of men and women who reported consuming all 3 main meals declined. Only 59% of men and 63% of women ate breakfast, lunch and dinner and breakfast and lunch were consumed later in the day. Overall energy from meals increased but the percent of daily energy from meals declined.  More energy is provided by snacks (23% of total daily energy in men and women) than ever before and the prevalence of snacking increased among women.  The time between dinner and reaching for an after dinner snack also decreased over time. 

What can we take away from these behavior changes? First it provides insight into nutrient inadequacies; more energy is provided by snacks but snacks are generally low in important nutrients including fiber, vitamins and minerals. Snacking may be an important occasion to target for improving nutrient intake. Lastly, fortification has historically been via staple foods like grains, salt and milk, but with shifts away from traditional meals and more meals outside the home, perhaps there is the need to re-think vehicles for fortification.       

Main Citation

Kant AK et al. 40-year trends in meal and snack eating behaviors of American adults.  J Acad Nutr Diet 2015, doi :10.1016/j.jand.2014.06.354

Other Citations

Cohn D et al. After decades of decline, a rise in stay-at home mothers.  Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project. Available from:

What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012, individuals 2 years and over (excluding breast-fed children), day 1. Available from :

Backstrand JR. The history and future of food fortification in the United states: a public health perspective. Nutr Rev 2002, 60(1):15-26.