Magazine article Amber Waves

Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating out Trends

Magazine article Amber Waves

Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating out Trends

Article excerpt

Over the past three decades, food prepared away from home-whether eaten at restaurants, picked up or delivered to eat at home, or served in school cafeterias-has become a regular part of more and more Americans' diets. For decades, the Federal Government has conducted nationally representative surveys of Americans' food and nutrient intakes and where foods are purchased. Yet, differences in data collection and coding methods for the surveys make it difficult to use them to analyze long-term trends.

Federal dietary surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 asked respondents whether or not the food was eaten at home as well as where the food was acquired. The food source coding scheme changed over time, but many sources are common across all surveys: either from supermarkets, smaller grocery stores, or other retailers (at-home food) or from a food-away-from home (FAFH) source. Subcategories within FAFH include full-service restaurant with wait staff, fast-food establishment with no wait staff, school or day care, and a catchall "other" subcategory that includes vending machines and other miscellaneous sources.

Researchers at ERS and the University of Georgia recoded the food sources consistently across the following federally collected national surveys:

USDA Nationwide Food Consumption Survey (NFCS) 1977-78;

USDA Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) 1989-91 and 1994-98; and

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-04, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2009-10, and 2011-12.

By linking food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 and providing consistent FAFH definitions, the researchers were able to assess longrun shifts in where consumers of different ages and income levels purchase their foods. Information on FAFH sources for different subpopulations can help in efforts to target nutrition education and policies.

30-Year Decline in Home-Prepared Food Briefly Reversed in 2007-10

For approximately 30 years, the share of food energy (measured in calories) obtained from FAFH sources steadily climbed. For the U.S. population as a whole (age 2 and older), the share of calories from FAFH rose from 17.8 percent in 1977-78 to 33.8 percent in 2005-06. Increased consumption of fast-food fare drove this trend. The share of calories obtained from fast food increased from 5.7 percent in 1977-78 to 15.6 percent in 2005-06.

Between 2007 and 2010, the share of calories obtained from FAFH briefly dipped to 29.1 percent, while calories obtained from fast food dropped to 13.2 percent. This period roughly corresponds to the 2007-09 recession in America-the most severe recession since the 1930s. Americans economized during this time by eating less FAFH, not just shifting to lower cost FAFH options. For some households, unemployment played a role in the change in habits by reducing funds for discretionary eating out and providing more time to cook at home. But, by 2011-12, the FAFH share of total calories rebounded to 34.0 percent, and the fast-food share grew to 15.8 percent.

Across All Time Periods, Low-Income Individuals Ate Less Food Prepared Away From Home

Researchers also looked at individuals living in higher income households (above 185 percent of the Federal poverty level) and individuals living in households with lower incomes (at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level). …

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