Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

USDA Finds More and More Americans Eat Out, Offers Tips for Making Healthier Food Choices / November 20, 1996, / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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 surveys.]

"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 low-income individuals.

"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 at home.

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 breaks.

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 Food Surveys Research Group, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Riverdale, Md; telephone (301) 734-8457.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page