USDA Finds More and More
Americans Eat Out, Offers Tips for Making Healthier Food Choices
By Judy McBride
November 20, 1996
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20--More
and more Americans are eating out, according to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest
nationwide food consumption survey, "What We Eat in America."
The study found that the number of Americans who eat at least one food or
beverage obtained away from home in the course of a day is 33 percent higher
than in 1977-78.
And, fast-food establishments, including pizza parlors, have passed
restaurants as the most frequent source of outside food.
"In 1994-95, 57 percent of Americans consumed meals and snacks away
from home on any given day, accounting for about half of their daily calorie
and fat intake on average," said Catherine E. Woteki, Acting Under
Secretary for Research, Education and
Economics. "Seventeen years ago, by comparison, 43 percent of
Americans ate away from home for just over 40 percent of daily calories and
fat. Given the prevalence of two-career families, the lack of time available
for home cooking, and the wide variety of choices available for meals away from
home, the increase is not surprising."
Teenage males are most likely to eat away from home, Woteki noted, while
individuals over age 60 are the least likely. On a typical day, more than 70
percent of teenage males eat away from home, compared with fewer than 40
percent of men and women over 60. But males and females from age six to over
sixty were surprisingly similar in the proportion of fat and calories they get
from these foods an any given day, Woteki said.
Nutritionist Lori Borrud of USDA's Agricultural Research Service will present
these data tonight at the annual meeting of the American Public Health
Association in New York City.
[Visit the home page of the
ARS Food Surveys
Research Group for more details about the group's current and past food
"These figures are averages," Borrud said. "The percent of
calories obtained from food eaten away from home ranges from a single diet soda
or cup of coffee to three full meals." In fact, the most popular foods
eaten away from home were beverages--sodas, coffee and milk. Other popular
foods are lettuce salads, sandwiches--especially burgers with or without
cheese--and french fries.
The data are based on interviews of nearly 11,000 men, women and children
of all ages from all regions of the country during 1994-95. The survey is
designed to reflect current demographics, Borrud said, with special emphasis on
"The number of Americans who eat away from home has steadily increased
since the question was first surveyed in 1965," she said. "The
increase is across all age and gender groups but is most apparent for young
children and women."
Borrud said Americans selected foods that are, on average, slightly higher
in fat and cholesterol and slightly lower in other nutrients than foods eaten
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, American households have
spent nearly 40 percent of their food dollar on food away from home since the
mid-1980's, compared with only 20 percent in the early 1970's.
In 1994-95, fast food establishments captured the business of nearly
one-third (32 percent) of those who bought and ate out, Borrud said, followed
by sit-down restaurants (27 percent) and grocery and convenience stores (24
percent). Americans most often ate lunch out, followed by snack or beverage
About 40 percent of males between age 12 and 59 ate food or beverages
purchased from fast-food establishments, compared with one-third of their
female counterparts and 25 percent of preschool children, said Borrud.
Other trends identified by the survey include:
- Males are generally more likely than females to eat away from home.
- A greater percentage of white Americans (59 percent) eat away from home
than African Americans (51 percent).
- More individuals with high incomes (65 percent) eat away from home compared
to low-income individuals (45 percent).
- Forty percent of food eaten away from home is consumed between 10 a.m. and
2 p.m. Nearly one-quarter is consumed between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m.
Click here to see USDA's tips for making
healthier food choices.
Scientific contact: Lori G. Borrud, nutritionist, will present these
data at 8:00 p.m., Nov. 20. She is with the
Research Group, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Riverdale, Md;
telephone (301) 734-8457.