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Americans Eating Out More, Consuming More Calories

WASHINGTON—A new report from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) reveals food prepared away from home (FAFH)—whether eaten in restaurants, fast-food and other locations, or as take-out or delivery to be eaten at home—is now a routine part of most Americans’ diets, accounting for 41% of food expenditures and 32% of caloric intake.

Over the past 30 years, food prepared at home (FAH) has become significantly lower in fat content and richer in calcium as a result of dietary guidance; however, FAFH tends to be lower in nutritional quality than food prepared at home (FAH), increases caloric intake and reduces diet quality among adults and children.

The report noted poor diets contribute to obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and other health conditions that impose a substantial economic burden on individuals and society. The increased popularity of FAFH is prompting new health promotion strategies, such as menu labeling, to address the challenge.

Key findings include:

  • Americans increased their away-from-home share of caloric intake from 17.7% in 1977-78 to 31.6% in 2005-08, mainly from table-service and fast-food restaurants.
  • On average, Americans consumed 85.6 grams of total fat per day in 1977-78, compared with 75.2 grams in 2005-08. The percent of calories from total fat also declined substantially from 39.7% to 33.4% between 1977 and 2008.
  • Mean daily calcium intake rose from 743 milligrams (mg) in 1977-78 to 919 mg in 2005-08. For every 1,000 calories from FAH, Americans increased their calcium intake from 425 mg to 559 mg in that time period, whereas the calcium density in FAFH remained relatively constant at 452-460 mg per 1,000 calories.
  • Foods obtained at schools had the highest calcium content among all food sources in both periods, but the amount of calcium per 1,000 calories from school foods declined from 742 mg in 1977-78 to 646 mg in 2005-08. The amount of calcium per 1,000 calories in fast-foods increased from 344 mg in 1977-78 to 372 mg in 2005-08.
  • FAFH was higher in saturated fat than FAH. The higher percent of calories from saturated fat in fast-foods was especially noteworthy at 13.5%, compared with 11.9% in restaurant foods, 12.3% in school foods, and 10.7% in FAH.
  • FAFH contained 1,820 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories, considerably higher than FAH at 1,369 mg of sodium. Foods from restaurants and fast-food establishments were particularly sodium-dense at 2,151 mg and 1,864 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories, respectively.
  • FAFH was more cholesterol-dense than FAH at 144 mg and 126 mg of cholesterol per 1,000 calories, respectively. Within FAFH sources, restaurant foods were most cholesterol-dense at 206 mg per 1,000 calories.
  • FAFH, especially fast-foods, were lower in dietary fiber than FAH, 6.8 grams versus 7.7 grams per 1,000 calories.


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