Family and Household Composition

Given that many people spend much of their time in their home and that behavior is likely influenced by those who they are living with, household composition is likely to influence eating behavior. The available evidence suggests that being married is positively associated with fruit and vegetable intake (Kamphuis et al, 2006), but also positively associated with energy and total fat intake and inversely associated with saturated fat intake (Giskes et al, 2007a). Fewer studies have focused on associations with fruit and vegetable consumption than energy or fat intake, and those existing studies have tended to focus on women, limiting the ability to draw conclusions related to marital status and fruit and vegetable consumption among men. For instance, a UK study of more than 35,000 women found that married participants had 62% higher odds of having a high fruit and vegetable consumption compared with their single counterparts (Pollard et al, 2001). A Canadian study of older adults found that a significantly greater proportion of those who were married consumed fruit and vegetables at least five times per day compared with those who were single (Riediger and Moghadasian, 2008). Despite a larger number of studies having examined relationships between marital status and energy or fat intakes, evidence remains inconclusive. For instance, an Irish study of over 6500 adults found married men and women on average consumed more energy per day than single adults, and married women consumed more fat per day than single women, but these differences were not statistically significant (Friel et al, 2003).

Other features of the household that may impact on eating behavior are the presence and number of children. Women with children under the age of 16 years have been found to consume significantly more servings of fruit but significantly fewer servings of vegetables than women without children (Pollard et al, 2001). However, a Norwegian study found that those with children consumed fruits less often than participants without children (Wandel, 1995). One study found that, among white adults, those who had a young child, regardless of whether they were married or single, consumed significantly more fruit than did those who were married and had no children (Devine et al, 1999). Limited research has examined whether the presence and number of children in the household is associated with energy or fat intake, making firm conclusions difficult to draw, and highlighting the need for further research in this area.

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