Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Effect of Demographic, Economic, and Nutrition Factors on the Frequency of Food Away from Home

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Effect of Demographic, Economic, and Nutrition Factors on the Frequency of Food Away from Home

Article excerpt

Food away from home, especially fast food, is often cited as contributing to obesity and other nutritional problems. This negative publicity can affect demand. Models explaining visits to table service and fast food restaurants are estimated, with nutrition variables added to standard demographic measures. Demographic effects are similar to those in past studies. Nutrition factors have little impact on table service, but nutrition-orientated consumers tend to have lower fast food consumption.

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One of the largest changes in American eating habits in recent decades has been the increasing reliance on food eaten away from home (FAFH). FAFH has increased from 33% of total food expenditures in 1970 to 47% by 2003. (1) Most of this is at table service and fast food restaurants. Much of the growth is attributed to the rising value of household time, especially as induced by more female labor force participation and rising household incomes. The importance of these factors has been shown in numerous studies (Byrne, Capps, and Saha 1998; Kinsey 1983; McCracken and Brandt 1987; Prochaska and Schrimper 1973; Redman 1980; Yen 1993). In addition, studies have consistently found that FAFH declines with household size, reflecting the scale economies associated with household meal preparation, and that women and older individuals of either sex are less likely to dine out. Separate analysis by type of facility has found different effects for some factors. For example, income is generally more important for table service, while convenience and accessibility have relatively greater influence for fast food (Jekanowski, Binkley, and Eales 2001; McCracken and Brandt 1987).

Recently, the growth in FAFH has generated concern about its possible effect on dietary quality. Analysis of food consumption surveys has indicated that meals eaten in restaurants are generally of lower nutritional quality than meals eaten at home, mainly due to higher fat and calorie content (Lin and Frazao 1997). Furthermore, obesity is now one of the nation's leading health problems, and because its growth has paralleled the trend in dining out, FAFH is often suggested as contributing to the energy imbalance that brings it about. Although this has not been scientifically established, the nature of restaurant food has become a policy issue. For example, proposals mandating that chain restaurants provide nutritional information on their menus have been introduced in both houses of Congress (Burton and Creyer 2004). On another front, lawsuits have been filed by diners alleging that their obesity resulted from restaurant meals.

This public scrutiny has caused some restaurant chains to adopt proactive measures. New products geared to the nutrition-orientated consumer have been introduced, particularly by fast food chains. The success of these initiatives ultimately depends on acceptability by consumers. Although initial sales appear promising (Warner 2005), previous introductions of healthy menu options have not been highly successful (Consumer Reports 1996, 2004). One possible reason for this is that individuals concerned with nutrition are less inclined to dine out, perhaps due to the bad publicity--effectively negative advertising--directed at restaurant food.

Because of these considerations, a potentially important question is the extent to which nutrition concerns and attitudes affect the decision to have an FAFH meal. Although there have been several studies of the impact of nutrition factors on the demand for particular foods or nutrients (Brown and Schrader 1990; Chern, Loehman, and Yen 1995; Ippolito and Mathios 1990), most have focused on nutrition information, and none has considered restaurant dining. In this paper, we do so using an econometric model containing not only demographic measures and measures of convenience but also measures of nutrition attitudes, concerns, and knowledge. The issue addressed is the decision to dine out: we do not consider the subsequent issue of what is eaten when dining out occurs. …

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