Correlates of meal skipping in young adults: a systematic review

Felicity J Pendergast et al.

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2016 Dec 1;13(1):125. doi: 10.1186/s12966-016-0451-1.


Background: Meal skipping rates may be highest during young adulthood, a period of transition and development. Although these dietary behaviours may increase future risk of chronic disease, limited research has investigated correlates of meal skipping in young adults.

Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted to identify studies that investigated correlates of meal skipping behaviours in young adults (aged 18-30 years). EBSCO host, MEDLINE Complete, Global Health, Scopus, EMBASE, Web of Science and Informit platforms were searched for eligible articles. Correlates were defined as any factor that was either associated with meal skipping or was self-reported by the participant to have an influence on meal skipping. Randomised controlled trials, prospective cohort studies, case-control studies, nested case-control studies, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies were eligible for inclusion.

Results: Three-hundred and thirty-one articles were identified, 141 full-text articles assessed for eligibility, resulting in 35 included studies. Multiple methodological and reporting weaknesses were apparent in the reviewed studies with 28 of the 35 studies scoring a negative rating in the risk of bias assessment. Meal skipping (any meal), defined as the skipping of any meal throughout the day, was reported in 12 studies with prevalence ranging between 5 and 83%. The remaining 25 studies identified specific meals and their skipping rates, with breakfast the most frequently skipped meal 14-88% compared to lunch 8-57% and dinner 4-57%. Lack of time was consistently reported as an important correlate of meal skipping, compared with correlates such as cost and weight control, while sex was the most commonly reported associated correlate. Breakfast skipping was more common among men while lunch or dinner skipping being more common among women.

Conclusions: This review is the first to examine potential correlates of meal skipping in young adults. Future research would benefit from stronger design and reporting strategies, using a standardised approach for measuring and defining meal skipping.

Keywords: Correlates; Eating behaviour; Meal skipping; Systematic review; Young adults.


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