Consumption of food prepared away from home plays an
increasingly large role in the American diet. In 1970, 26 percent
of all food spending was on food away from home; by 2010, that
share rose to 41 percent. A number of factors contributed to the
trend of increased dining out, including a larger share of women
employed outside the home, more two-earner households, higher
incomes, more affordable and convenient fast food outlets,
increased advertising and promotion by large foodservice chains,
and the smaller size of U.S. households. ERS economists examine
factors influencing this trend as well as:
ERS research comparing nutritional quality of food prepared at
home and away from home has been used to develop Federal dietary
guidelines, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Healthy
Nutritional quality of
food away from home
Download chart data in Excel
Between 1977-78 and 1994-96, U.S. consumption of food prepared
away from home increased from 18 to 32 percent of total calories.
Meals and snacks based on food prepared away from home contained
more calories per eating occasion than those based on at-home food.
Away-from-home food was also higher in nutrients (such as fat and
saturated fat) that Americans overconsume and lower in nutrients
(calcium, fiber, and iron) that Americans underconsume.
Inroads are being made to improve the quality of American's diets,
but the rising popularity of eating out presents a challenge for
Americans. Several publications address the nutritional quality of
foods prepared at home and away from home:
Because of the higher calorie count and poorer nutritional
quality of away-from-home meals and snacks, research has examined
the relationship between eating out and obesity. ERS researchers
found a positive association between body weight and dietary
patterns, including eating out.
- "Factors associated with women's and children's body mass
indices by income status" International Journal of Obesity
28 (2004):536-542. (Contact Biing-Hwan Lin for reprint).
- "Dietary habits, demographics, and the development of
overweight and obesity among children in the United States"
Food Policy 30 (2005):115-128. (Contact Biing-Hwan Lin
for a reprint).
Current nutrition labeling law exempts much of the
food-away-from-home sector from mandatory labeling regulations.
Public health advocates have called for mandatory nutrition
labeling for major sources of food away from home to inform
consumers about the nutritional content of these foods. ERS
researchers conducted an economic assessment of a
food-away-from-home nutrition labeling policy, including
justifications for policy intervention and potential costs and
benefits of the policy. For details, see Nutrition Labeling in the Food-Away-From-Home
Sector An Economic Assessment.
Effect of Dietary
Knowledge on Food and Nutrient Intakes
ERS research has found that dietary knowledge decreases
consumption of red meats such as beef and pork both at home and
away from home but has no effect on poultry and fish consumption.
Dietary knowledge has been found to promote fish consumption in
Spain. ERS results, however, are not unexpected as fish and
shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential
nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty
acids which reduce the risk of heart disease. But many fish have
been contaminated with mercury and other chemicals. Thus, better
dietary knowledge may affect consumption of some fish positively
and others negatively, resulting in an ambiguous effect of
knowledge on total fish consumption. The relationship between
dietary knowledge and fish consumption clearly depends on the
definition of knowledge as well as fish classification. On the
other hand, the relationship between dietary knowledge and beef and
pork consumption is more definitive and has been well established.
(Contact Biing-Hwan Lin for a reprint.)