Posted on Jul 24, 2020, 5 p.m.
Eating right is not just about what you eat, it also means how much you eat, when you eat, and where you are eating. According to a study from Tufts University researchers one out of every five calories that the average American consumes is coming from a restaurant, and these meals typically have poor nutritional value which is contributing to the unhealthy lifestyle that millions of people across the nation are living.
The diets of more than 35,000 American adults were analyzed in this study, with the data coming from the NHANES report between 2003 and 2016. The survey looked at adults who dine out at restaurants with wait staff and fast food locations, and using the American Heart Association 2020 Diet Score certain foods and nutrients were evaluated in each meal. This diet score assesses an individual's consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, sodium, and sugar sweetened beverages, and a secondary score takes into account the intake of nuts, processed meats, and saturated fats.
According to the research published in The Journal of Nutrition from 2015-2016 at least 70% of meals served at fast food eateries have poor dietary quality, these numbers are down from 75% in 2003-2004. But the numbers are hit or miss when it comes to meals at full service restaurants with 50% of the meals having poor nutritional quality that remained steady for the length of the survey.
“Our findings show dining out is a recipe for unhealthy eating most of the time,” says senior author Dariush Mozaffarian in a media release. “It should be a priority to improve the nutritional quality of both full-service and fast-food restaurant meals, while reducing disparities so that all Americans can enjoy the pleasure and convenience of a meal out that is also good for them.”
Inequalities were also found in who is eating healthy foods across the nation, with non-Hispanic whites and Mexican-Americans typically making healthier choices even when they are consuming fast foods. However, this survey did not find any changes in the quality of fast food being consumed by non-Hisapnic Africian Americans.
Education appears to also be playing a role in unhealthy eating, as those with college degrees decreased their consumption of poor quality fast food meals from 74% to 60% during the survey period, and this number stayed at 76% for those without a high school diploma.
This study suggests that 21% of the calories that this nation is eating are coming from dining out, with 9% of this coming from full service restaurants and 12% being from fast food meals. Over the study period fast food breakfast meals became more popular, increasing from 4% to 8% during the past decade.
“We found the largest opportunities for enhancing nutritional quality would be adding more whole grains, nuts and legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables to meals while reducing salt,” Junxiu Liu, a postdoctoral scholar at the Friedman School says.
“It should be a priority to improve the nutritional quality of both full-service and fast-food restaurant meals, while reducing disparities so that all Americans can enjoy the pleasure and convenience of a meal out that is also good for them,” Mozaffarian adds.
“Our food is the number one cause of poor health in the country, representing a tremendous opportunity to reduce diet-related illness and associated healthcare spending,” Mozaffarian explains.
Food is an overlooked but extremely important factor to health, and eating out is often a recipe for an unhealthy diet. According to recent CDC figures more than one third of all American adults aged 20+ are obese and 17% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old are also obese. This represents a major health cost and huge expenditure cost as an obese person in America incurs and average of $1,429 more in annual medical expenses, and this adds up to about $147 billion in added medical expenses each year with America alone.
While food may be an important part of the problem, it is important to remember that it is also an important part of the solution.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.