Away-from-home food has costs

Away-from-home food has costs

Research shows that consuming food prepared away from home contributes to poor diets, health and medical costs.

FOOD prepared away from home (FAFH) is becoming increasingly significant in the American diet, with Americans spending 25.9% of their food dollar on FAFH in 1970 and 41.3% today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is also becoming increasingly significant to our health, as an analysis suggests that FAFH tends to be higher in calories and lower in nutritional quality than food prepared at home (FAH), thus contributing to poorer diets than FAH, according to USDA.

Poor diets, in turn, contribute to health problems such as excess weight and obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the agency said. Excess weight and obesity alone cost society $147 billion per year, or 10% of all medical costs, USDA added.

Enormous costs related to dietary habits are one reason government and private entities are emphasizing the need for Americans to improve their diets, USDA said in a recent research report authored by Biing-Hwan Lin and Joanne Guthrie at the Economic Research Service (ERS).

FAFH is defined as food from full-service and quick-service restaurants and other eat-in locations and from delivery and takeout sources that's eaten in the home.

In their research, Lin and Guthrie compared food consumption data from USDA surveys in 1977-78 with data from USDA and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services surveys in 2005-08. The analysis permitted them to compare caloric, total fat and calcium intake patterns from the two periods by adults and children two years of age and older.

The latter surveys also provided information on cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium and dietary fiber intake.



Lin and Guthrie reported a number of findings:

* Americans increased their FAFH caloric intake from 17.7% of their total calories in 1977-78 to 31.6% of total calories in 2005-08, primarily due to increased consumption of restaurant food, especially quick-service restaurant food (Figure).

Caloric intake rose from 1,875 calories per day in the earlier period to 2,002 calories per day in the later period.

* Americans decreased their consumption of total fat significantly from the earlier to the later period from 85.6 g per day to 75.2 g per day, and the percentage of total calories consumed from total fat also declined substantially.

However, this was due largely to decreased consumption of total fat in the FAH category -- decreasing from 81.9% of daily intake to 65.1% -- but consumption of total fat increased in the FAFH category from 18.1% of daily intake to 34.9%.

Consumption of total fat in schools increased from 3.1% to 3.9%.

* Americans also increased their calcium consumption from the earlier to the later period, although calcium consumption decreased as a percentage of daily intake in the FAH category and increased in the FAFH category.

Calcium consumption in schools increased from 3.7% to 4.5%.

* Nutrient density provided additional information -- some good, some not good and some alarming, according to the findings.

For total fat, in kilocalories, FAH accounted for 39.6% of caloric intake per day in 1976-78 and 30.5% in 2005-08, but total fat in FAFH declined less spectacularly, from 39.9% of caloric intake per day to 37.2%. Lin and Guthrie said this points to a widening gap between total fat consumption in the two categories, i.e., consumers are getting more and more of their total fat from the FAFH category.

Consumption of total fat in schools decreased from 39.9% to 33.6%.

For calcium, in milligrams per 1,000 kcal, FAH calcium consumption per day increased 31.4% from the earlier to the later period, but FAFH calcium consumption per day increased only 1.9%.

What's interesting, calcium consumption increased more from foods in quick-service than in full-service restaurants.

Unfortunately, calcium consumption decreased 14.9% in schools. Linn and Guthrie said that drop is likely attributable to declining milk consumption among children generally and, in schools, the increasing availability of non-USDA school lunch program foods and beverages kids can buy, i.e., "competitive" foods and beverages such as sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks.

(As Feedstuffs has previously reported, declining milk consumption in schools is also attributable to schools adopting policies to limit or outright ban chocolate and other flavored milk, which often pushes kids toward competitive beverages.)


Other findings

From the 2005-08 survey, Lin and Guthrie reported that:

* Food in the FAFH category was higher in saturated fat, especially for the quick-service sector, than food in the FAH category.

* FAFH food was more cholesterol dense than FAH food, at 144 mg versus 126 mg of cholesterol per 1,000 calories; similarly, FAFH food was more sodium dense than FAH food, at 1,820 mg versus 1,368 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories.

Food in full-service restaurants was especially cholesterol dense, and food in both full-service and quick-service restaurants was particularly sodium dense.

School food was higher in saturated fat and sodium but lower in cholesterol than FAH food.

* FAFH food was lower in dietary fiber than FAH food. School food was just slightly lower in dietary fiber than FAH food.


Addressing barriers

Lin and Guthrie noted that dietary professionals are encouraging people to eat more home-prepared meals as a means to improve their diets and health but said the trend toward FAFH is predicted to continue.

Consumers are strapped for time and regard eating out or ordering in as a special treat, Lin and Guthrie said. Even those who are concerned about dietary quality, in the FAFH environment, don't have healthful options or lack the information needed to make healthful choices, they said.

Innovations that simplify and speed food preparation, such as prewashed, chopped and/or peeled vegetables, can help address these barriers, they said, as can nutrition information for FAFH.

Indeed, they noted that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 mandates that calorie and other nutrition information be available on menus or menu boards in restaurants and even next to or on vending machines (Feedstuffs, April 11, 2011).

However, they acknowledged that research suggests that this kind of labeling will have little or no impact on consumers (Feedstuffs, April 4, 2011), although it may prompt restaurants to offer more healthful options and/or reformulate offerings that are high in calories, fat or sodium, which has occurred in some California restaurants since the state passed a labeling law.

Furthermore, they said, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to improve the dietary quality of school breakfasts and lunches and restricts the availability of competitive foods and beverages, which could improve the nutrition profile of school meals.

The full report by Lin and Guthrie is available at

Additional information on diets and nutrition is at

Volume:85 Issue:01

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