Background: International research suggests that meal patterns may be changing, possibly with adverse consequences for obesity and chronic disease. However little is known about the meal patterns of Australians. The aim of this study was to examine the changes in meal patterns of the Australian adult population between 1995 and 2011.
Methods: Data from two nationally representative Australian surveys were used (1995 National Nutrition Survey, n=10,851; 2011-2013 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, n=8964). Dietary intake among adults (≥19 years) was measured via 24-hour recall and respondents in each survey reported their eating occasions (EOs) including meals and snacks. Frequency of meals, snacks and all EOs, time between EOs and energy intake (EI) from meals, snacks and all EOs were compared between the two surveys using an F-test. All results were weighted, adjusted for sample design effects and presented as means and Taylor linearized standard errors.
Results: Overall, there was little change in frequency of total EOs over time; only a small but significant increase was observed for women aged ≥65 years (5.5 [0.05] vs 5.8 [0.07], P<0.001). Time between EOs decreased among women but not men between 1995 and 2011-12 (181 [1.15] vs 171 [1.29], P<0.001). The proportion of total EI from meals decreased between 3-6% (P<0.001) whereas the proportion of total EI from snacks increased between 3-6% (P<0.001), except among men and women aged 19-24 years.
Conclusions: Small changes in meal patterns have occurred between 1995 and 2011. Changes in the amount of time between EOs and proportion of energy from snacks demonstrate a similar pattern to changes internationally. However they are smaller in magnitude which may reflect the different timescales over which meal patterns have been assessed. However, increases in the proportion of energy from snacks and the impact on nutrient profiles and health warrants further investigation.