Many young people say they lack the time to sit down to a meal, and that may be pushing them to make less-than healthy food choices, a new study suggests.

In a survey of nearly 1,700 college-age adults, researchers found that 35 percent of men and 42 percent of women said they lacked time for sit-down meals.

Those time constraints also seemed to push them toward more junk food and less healthy fare, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Men and women who said they typically sat down to dinner with other people tended to have better overall diets, including a higher intake of fruits and vegetables. In contrast, those who tended to "eat on the run" often opted for fast food and had higher intakes of saturated fat and soft drinks.

"The findings suggest it is important to make time for having meals and, whenever possible, to share mealtimes with friends or family members," said lead researcher Dr. Nicole I. Larson, a research associate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Even though real meals can be hard to fit into a busy day, she told Reuters Health, people should schedule time for them like they would for any other important activity.

Larson added that colleges and workplaces could do their part by providing scheduled break times for meals, as well as facilities with healthy snack options.

When there is no other option than eating on the run, Larson advised reaching for healthy fare instead of junk food. Fresh or dried fruits, pre-washed bagged vegetables, whole grain crackers and "string" cheese are some convenient, healthier choices, she said.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, January 2009.