Fast food is getting the boot in many people's diets, according to government statistics out this week.
Adults consumed about 11percent of their daily calories from fast food in 2010 down from almost 13 percent in 2006, the data reveal. These included foods such as hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches, fries and other items sold at places that offer quick service and takeout.
Overall caloric intake among adults remained stable during these years. "The percent of calories from fast food has gone down a significant amount," says the study's lead author, Cheryl Fryar, a health statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, similar percentages of calories from fast food were consumed by men (11.8 percent) and women (10.9 percent).
The percentages of calories consumed from fast food decreased with people as they got older. Those 20 to 39 years old consumed about 15.3 percent of their daily calories from these foods; 40- to 59-year-olds, 10.5 percent; people 60 and older, 6 percent). Not surprisingly, heavier people tended to consume a higher percentage. People who are obese, roughly 35 or more pounds over a normal weight, consumed about 13 percent of their calories from fast food; those who were 1 to 34 pounds overweight, 11 percent; those who were at a normal weight, 9.6 percent.
The latest findings are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which evaluates food and beverage intake from in-person interviews. The results are based on more than 11,000 interviews conducted from 2007 to 2010. Other research from the NPD Group, a market research firm, shows a similar trend in fast-food meals. In both 2010 and 2012, the average American bought about 152 meals a year at quick-service restaurants, down from 158 in 2006, says Harry Balzer, NPD's chief industry analyst. That doesn't include meals from full-service restaurants, which are places with waiters and waitresses, he says.
This drop "is mostly due to money, because we never let our overall food costs rise faster than our incomes, and our incomes have been under pressure, so we ate more meals at home," Balzer says. "The actual cost of a restaurant meal is three times the cost of an in-home meal." Still, he says, more money is being spent at quick-service restaurants overall because the population is continuing to grow and the prices at these restaurants continue to increase.
In fact, Joy Dubost, director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association, says there has been a steady increase in sales at quick-service restaurants in recent years. "Sales at quick-service restaurants jumped more than 5 percent from 2011 to 2012 from $169.8 billion annually to $179.3 billion. "Quick-service restaurants have done a tremendous job in making sure there are healthier choices out there," she says.
Lisa Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller Plan, adds, "Fast-food places continue to sell high-calorie items -- many meals contain half a day's worth of calories -- but they are offering some lower-calorie items as well. Get the smallest size possible of everything from burgers to fries to soda so that you take in the fewest calories."
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