Food prepared out of the home tends to be less healthy than home cooking, particularly in terms of energy, salt and fat content, and regularly eating these meals is linked to poorer quality diet and higher risk of obesity.
Academics, from public health research centres Fuse and CEDAR, suggest that future initiatives should be targeted at people in their 20s, who eat the most convenience food.
The collaborative study, believed to be the first of its kind, analysed the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) in which people of all ages across the UK are asked about their eating habits and specifically how often they eat meals (more than a drink or bag of chips) prepared outside the home. The researchers, from the Universities of Durham, Cambridge and Newcastle, then compared this data with personal characteristics such as gender, age and socio-economic position.
One in four UK adults and one in five children reported eating meals out - at restaurants or cafes for example - once a week or more, and one fifth said they have takeaway food at least weekly. Studies have found that there are health risks associated with eating fast food more than once a week, and this may also apply to takeaway food more generally.
This could have important implications particularly for young adults (aged 19-29) who, according to those surveyed, are most likely to both eat meals out and takeaways on a weekly basis. Almost one-third of this group eat takeaway meals at home this often.
Adults living in more affluent households are more likely to eat meals out on a weekly basis but children living in less affluent homes are more likely to eat takeaway meals at least once a week. The number of children eating takeaways increases with age, with boys more likely to do so than girls. There was no difference in how often adults ate takeaways according to affluence.
In a number of countries, governments provide advice on how to choose more healthy options when eating meals out and choosing takeaway meals, but no guidance on how often this food should be eaten is provided.
This study suggests that future initiatives seeking to improve diet by reducing the amount of food eaten out of the home should be targeted at those under 30 years old. It may also be important to develop initiatives to help young people find alternatives to reduce frequency of eating food prepared outside of the home and to work with takeaway outlets to improve the healthiness of the foods offered.
The researchers said: “In this work we found that eating out at restaurants and cafes, and eating takeaway food at home is common in the UK – particularly among younger adults. This food tends to be less healthy. We are now starting a number of projects exploring ways of encouraging local takeaways to serve healthier food.”
The NDNS aims to recruit a sample that represents the population therefore the results of the study are likely to be generalisable across the UK. The current data were collected in 2008-12, making this the most up-to-date UK dataset on food choice.
The nearest comparative study analysed the amount of meals eaten in restaurants (either sit-in or takeaway) by adults in the USA. This found that 41 per cent of US adults ate such meals three times or more a week. As five per cent or less of people in this study eat meals out or takeaways more than once or twice a week, this suggests that at present consumption is substantially higher in the USA than the UK.
The paper, Frequency and socio-demographic correlates of eating meals out and take-away meals at home: cross-sectional analysis of the UK national diet and nutrition survey, waves 1–4 (2008–12) has been published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
This research is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (SPHR) project: Transforming the ‘foodscape’: development and feasibility testing of interventions to promote healthier take-away, pub or restaurant food.
The study involved researchers from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health: Ashley Adamson, Director and Professor of Public Health Nutrition; and Dr Louis Goffe, Research Associate, from Newcastle University. Dr Amelia Lake, Lecturer in Knowledge Exchange and Public Health; and Carolyn Summerbell, Professor in the School of Medicine & Health and Principal of John Snow College, from Durham University. This study was led by Dr Jean Adams, Programme Lead – Population approaches to promoting healthy diets from CEDAR, the Centre for Diet and Activity Research.
Photograph ‘Indian Takeaway’ (377797808_78fb98a48c) by Su-Lin via Flickr © 2007: https://www.flickr.com/photos/su-lin/377797808
Last modified: Thu, 06 Aug 2015 09:43:07 BST