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Factors Contributing to Obesity: Let’s Eat Out

Over the past several decades, Americans have come to love eating out. One U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food survey found that our share of total calories consumed away from home in the U.S. rose from 18 percent in the late 1970s to 32 percent by the mid-1990s. Similarly, the share of our total food budgets spent on food eaten away from home rose from 34 percent in 1974 to about 50 percent in 2004.

You are more likely to eat high-calorie, energy-dense and nutritionally poor foods at restaurants.

The two largest segments of the away-from-home food market are full-service restaurants and fast-food outlets.42 Rapid growth in both categories has prompted Americans to take advantage of the affordability and convenience they offer. As one study puts it, Americans are experiencing “unprecedented exposure to energy-dense, heavily advertised, inexpensive and highly accessible foods.”43

Dining out affects food consumption. You are more likely to eat high-calorie, energy-dense and nutritionally poor foods at restaurants. Consumption of sodium, sugar, total fat and saturated fat all increase when eating away from home, while intake of fiber, calcium, magnesium and other important nutrients falls.

A recent study found that dinner patrons eat 56 percent more when served larger portions of high-energy-density foods than when served foods lower in energy density. This research also showed that individuals who are served large portions and intend to compensate by reducing their food consumption at other meals have a difficult time doing so. Consequently, the eating-out trend has contributed to the obesity crisis. Dining out can be directly associated with increased BMI.44

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