Examining the association between meal context and diet quality: an observational study of meal context in older adults

Marissa M. Shams-White, Robert W. Korycinski, Kevin W. Dodd, Brian Barrett, Stephanie Jacobs, Amy F. Subar, Yikyung Park, Heather R. Bowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Though a healthy diet is widely associated with reduced risks for chronic disease and mortality, older adults in the U.S. on average do not meet dietary recommendations. Given that few studies have examined the association between meal context on older adult diet quality, the aims of this study were (1) to compare the dietary quality of foods consumed in different meal contexts, as measured by the Healthy Eating Index 2015 (HEI-2015): meal location, the presence of others, and the use of electronic screens; and (2) to examine which components of the HEI-2015 drove differences in HEI-2015 total scores by meal context. Methods: Interactive Diet and Activity Tracking in AARP study participants (50–74 years) completed the Automated Self-Administered 24-h Dietary Assessment tool (ASA24, version 2011) that included foods and beverages consumed and three meal contexts: “at home” versus “away from home,” “alone” versus “with company,” and “with screen time” versus “without screen time.” A population ratio approach was used to estimate HEI-2015 total and component scores for all food items consumed by meal context. Mean HEI-2015 scores (range: 0–100) for the three meal context variables were compared using t-tests. Where there were significant differences in total scores, additional t-tests were used to explore which HEI-2015 components were the primary drivers. All tests were stratified by sex and adjusted for multiple comparisons. Results: HEI-2015 scores were lower for meals consumed away vs. at home (mean difference (SE), males: − 8.23 (1.02); females: − 7.29 (0.93); both p < 0.0001) and for meals eaten with vs. without company (mean difference (SE), males: − 6.61 (1.06); females: − 7.34 (1.18); both p < 0.0001). There was no difference comparing with vs. without screen time. When HEI-2015 component scores were examined, fewer total fruits, whole grains, and dairy were consumed away from home or with company; more total vegetables and greens and beans, and less added sugars were consumed with company. Conclusions: Our findings suggest an association between the behavior cues of meal location and companions and dietary choices among older adults. Future studies can explore the individual and interactive effects of meal context on diet quality and subsequent health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number67
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • ASA24
  • Food away from home
  • Food environment
  • Healthy eating index
  • Meal location
  • Screen time
  • Social support


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