USDA Charts the Growth of “Food Away from Home”

USDA data show that over the past 30 years, the food that Americans eat away from home (e.g., in restaurants and fast food chains) has grown substantially. In 1977 people obtained approximately 18% of their daily calories from food away from home, but the percentage jumped to 34% by 2012. Of this share of food away from home, the amount obtained from fast food climbed from less than 6% in 1977 to nearly 16% in 2012. The Great Recession of 2007-09 caused households to eat out less and cook at home more, and during this period the percentage of daily calories from restaurants dropped to 29%. But by 2011-12, the economic rebound caused a rebound in calories eaten away from home to 34%, with 16% attributed to fast food. The data also show that children have been getting an increasing amount of their daily calories from fast food. In 1977-78, fast food accounted for only 4% of children’s daily calories, half as much as from school lunches. By 2012, however, the percentage jumped to 14%, with the share of calories from school food dropping to less than 7%. Given that meals in restaurants and fast food establishments generally contain more calories, fat, and salt than home-cooked meals, these trends suggest that reducing diet-related chronic diseases will be more challenging in the coming years.


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