New Study: Children Getting More of Their Calories From Fast Food and Take-Out

In my post yesterday responding to Mark Bittman’s op-ed on food taxes, I cited a 2011 OECD study which ranked America dead last among twenty nations surveyed in terms of time spent cooking — Americans currently devote, on average, only thirty minutes or less each day in food preparation.

So the findings of a new study will come as no surprise:  American children are now getting more and more of their calories from food prepared outside the home.  The study, which will appear in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and can be read in full here, looked at the eating habits of almost 30,000 children between 1977 and 2006, and found that the consumption of food prepared outside the home (fast food and store-prepared food) increased from 23.4% to 33.9% during that time period.  As you might expect, the researchers also found a resulting increase in overall calorie intake.  In addition, researchers found that “the percentage of calories from fast food has increased to surpass intake from schools.”

There’s nothing terribly surprising here (although this seems to be the first study of its kind.)  For convenience and/or economic reasons, Americans are turning the cooking of their food over to others more and more frequently.   But as we all know, the only goal of the food purveyor is to make food taste so good  that you’ll come back for more, and that usually means loading it with far more of the fat and sodium (and sometimes artificial ingredients) that we’d do well to avoid.   (For a great exposé of food industry tactics to manipulate our taste buds, check out The End of Overeating by former FDA Commissioner David Kessler.)

Eating out is easy, convenient and can be great fun — my chowhound family lives for Sunday nights when we explore Houston’s seemingly endless array of just about any ethnic food you can imagine.  But when we completely give up home cooking, we cede far too much control to third parties who simply do not have our best interests at heart.

And that brings me back to my Bittman post, which inspired blogger Bri of Red, Round or Green to write her own post on the demise of home cooking.  She offers thoughtful suggestions on how to get Americans cooking again and she makes an impassioned case for “moving backward” — i.e., giving up some convenience foods — so that we can move forward.  Be sure to check it out.

[Hat tip to PEACHSF and Eat Dinner for alerting me to the JADA study.]





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  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this post and providing connections to people who passionately support what I as a registered dietitian wholeheartedly believe in…the importance of getting people to cook, and the impact it has on our overall health. Please keep sharing!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Rachel – thank you! It’s great to have you here! I always welcome the perspective of RD’s, who are really on the front line of helping people improve their eating habits. Do you find it hard to get non-cooks to start cooking?

  2. Nilam says

    I thought it was very interesting that fast foods have now surpassed school foods for foods eaten away from home for all age groups! That is remarkable!

    • Barry says

      The evidence does show that the total calorie consumption is made up from many different places (school, home and outside of home). While the facts might be clear of where the calories comes from, does the facts also show how MANY calories are consumed? My opinion is that we have moved away from the root cause of obesity: calories. Educating consumers AGAIN on watching the amount of calories consumed would be easier than make the change IN the foods. Mandate nutrition education in schools is a great place to start. Since every packaged food already has calories listed, keeping track of how much calories consumed should be easy. Then why is it so hard. Laziness on consumers? Lack of self- control? Yes, I know someone will reply and talk about medical issues and forced Gov’t regulations as the answers. Everyone has an opinion.
      Good Day~


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