Associations of early adulthood life transitions with changes in fast food intake: a latent trajectory analysis.
The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 2020 ; 17: 130.
PubMed ID : 33036629
PMCID : PMC7547405
Early adulthood is a period of rapid personal development when individuals experience major life transitions (e.g. leaving the parental home, leaving education, beginning employment, cohabitation and parenthood). Changes in social and physical environments associated with these transitions may influence development of health-related behaviours. Consumption of fast food is one behaviour associated with poor diet and long-term health outcomes. In this study we assess how frequency of fast food consumption changes across early adulthood, and how major life transitions are associated with changes in fast food intake.
Data were collected across four waves of the Project EAT study, from mean age 14.9 (SD = 1.6) to mean age 31.1 (SD = 1.6) years. Participants reporting data at two or more waves were included (n = 2902). Participants reported past week frequency of eating food from a fast food restaurant and responded to questions on living arrangements, education and employment participation, and having children. To assess changes in fast food we developed a latent growth model incorporating an underlying trajectory of fast food intake, five life transitions, and time-invariant covariates.
Mean fast food intake followed an underlying quadratic trajectory, increasing through adolescence to a maximum of 1.88 (SE 0.94) times/week and then decreasing again through early adulthood to 0.76 (SE 2.06) times/week at wave 4. Beginning full-time employment and becoming a parent both contributed to increases in fast food intake, each resulting in an average increase in weekly fast food intake of 0.16 (p < 0.01) times/week. Analysis of changes between pairs of waves revealed stronger associations for these two transitions between waves 1-2 (mean age 14.9-19.4 years) than seen in later waves. Leaving the parental home and beginning cohabitation were associated with decreases in fast food intake of - 0.17 (p = 0.004) and - 0.16 (p = 0.007) times/week respectively, while leaving full-time education was not associated with any change.
The transitions of beginning full-time employment and becoming a parent were associated with increases in fast food intake. Public health policy or interventions designed to reduce fast food intake in young adults may benefit from particular focus on populations experiencing these transitions, to ameliorate their impact.
How does fast food intake change across the life transitions of early adulthood?
Early adulthood is a time of life when people go through major life transitions, like leaving their parents’ home, finishing education, starting employment, beginning cohabiting with a partner, and becoming a parent. We used four waves of data from the Project EAT study, based in Minnesota, US, to investigate how people’s fast food consumption changes as they go through these transitions from ages 15 to 30. We found that in general people’s fast food consumption increased through adolescence, up to an average of eating fast food around two times per week, and then decreased again through early adulthood to less than one time per week. On top of this, beginning full-time employment and becoming a parent were both linked to increases in fast food consumption, and the effect was stronger when these transitions were experienced in late adolescence rather than early adulthood. Meanwhile, moving away from parents and starting living with a partner were both linked to decreases in fast food consumption. Finishing education was not linked to any change in fast food consumption. Our findings suggest that starting full-time work and becoming a parent may be times when people tend to increase how much fast food they eat. There may be advantages to targeting these particular life transitions as times to support people to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.