Trends in US home food preparation and consumption

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a research study with the aim to evaluate:

  • Whether US adults continue to increase away-from-home food consumption or if this trend has leveled off and
  • when people do eat at home, how likely they are to cook and how much time they spend cooking, especially amongst low-income consumers.

The study  Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965–1966 to 2007–2008”   concluded that:

  • US adults have decreased consumption of foods from the home supply and reduced time spent cooking since 1965, but this trend appears to have leveled off, with no substantial decrease occurring after the mid-1990’s.
  • Across socioeconomic groups, people consume the majority of daily energy from the home food supply, yet only slightly more than half spend any time cooking on a given day.
  • Efforts to boost the healthfulness of the US diet should focus on promoting the preparation of healthy foods at home while incorporating limits on time available for cooking.

Interesting highlights from the study:

  1. American diets have shifted towards decreased nutrient density with less than 20 percent meeting USDA guidelines for a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
  2. US consumers increasingly consume foods from away-from-home sources including fast food, cafeterias, and restaurants.
  3. Half of all energy from fast food is consumed at home, demonstrating that even foods consumed within the home are not necessarily home-cooked.
  4. In both the UK and the US, promotion of home cooking has been viewed as a major strategy to reduce obesity.
  5. Fewer people cooked in 2007–2008 compared to 1965–1966 for all income groups, although the low income groups showed the largest decline in the proportion cooking, from 67% in 1965–1966 to 56% in 2007–2008.
  6. The overall amount of time spent in food preparation has decreased, as fewer people cook per day and those who cook spend less time on cooking.
  7. The lack of change in eating out and in cooking during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s suggests that US adults have achieved a stable pattern where roughly a two-thirds of daily energy are consumed from home sources, with the remaining third coming from away-from-home foods, including fast food and restaurants. Given the stability of this trend over the past 20 years, it seems unlikely that US adults will show further increases in eating out.
  8. The shift from food prepared at-home to increased consumption of convenience/easy-to-prepare and away-from-home (AFH) foods may have important nutritional implications.
  9. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have shown that AFH foods have been associated with increased energy intake and decreased nutritional quality, as well as increased weight gain.
  10. In contrast, eating foods prepared from scratch is associated with increased intakes of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Increased cooking has also been linked to improved overall health, a decrease in BMI and improved survival.

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