Associations of early adulthood life transitions with changes in fast food intake: A latent trajectory analysis

Eleanor M. Winpenny, Megan R. Winkler, Jan Stochl, Esther M.F. Van Sluijs, Nicole Larson, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number130
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 9 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data collection for the study was supported by grant number R01HL116892 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. MW was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, grant number T32DK083250 and DNS was supported by grant number R35HL139853 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Data analysis was supported by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Funding from the British Heart Foundation, Department of Health, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged (087636/Z/08/Z; ES/G007462/1; MR/K023187/1; RES-590-28- 0002). EvS and EW are supported by the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12015/7, MR/T010576/1). No funders had any involvement in the design of the study, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, or in writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Diet
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Fast food
  • Life transition
  • Longitudinal
  • Parenthood
  • Partner
  • Young adult

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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