Photo by Tetra Pak, used with Creative Commons license
A study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows frequent restaurant dining contributes to higher caloric intake for Americans, especially among children and teens. In 2007-2008, 33% of children and 41% of adolescents reported eating fast food in the past 24 hours, while another 12% of children and 18% of adolescents had eaten at a full-service restaurant (with wait staff) in the same time period. Children ate an average of 309 more calories on days when they ate out and tended to replace milk with soda, notes NPR. However the decrease in “at home” consumption may prove more concerning than increasing fast food consumption since people tend to eat less at home, and consumers ate 49% less of their food from full-service restaurants at home during 2007-2008 versus 2003-2004.
This data concerns experts because more than one-third of children and adolescents in the US are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Study authors note that higher intakes of calories, sugar, sodium, and fat from dining out put youth at increased risk for developing diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions.Thankfully, fast food dining decreased slightly between 2003-2004 and 2007-2008, and some groups ate less when they dined out. Children six to eleven years old, boys, and Caucasians all consumed fewer fast food calories, while girls and low-income teens ate less at full-service restaurants.These changes may reflect increasing social awareness about healthy eating choices, and campaigns such as mandatory calorie labeling in chain restaurants and local bans on trans fats.
While health advocates rejoice over declining restaurant patronage among younger age groups, the trend worries restaurant owners who observe millennials (young adults ages 18-34) dining out less than ever before. Young adults carried much of the restaurant industry’s profits in the past, but experts acknowledge the recession, and the resulting move home for members of this age group, as one major reason for the reduction in restaurant dining. Now baby boomers constitute the largest consumer base for restaurants, which concerns industry leaders nationwide, according to USA Today.
Elaine Borawski, PhD is Director of the CWRU Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods and a Schubert Center faculty associate who researches health behavior modification, including changing diet to reduce obesity.