The majority of Americans’ caloric intake comes from food purchases made at supermarkets, grocery- and convenience stores, a new study has found.
The study, conducted by Dr. Adam Drewnowski of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle on behalf of the National Restaurant Association, determined that food purchased from restaurants accounts for between 17 percent and 26 percent of Americans’ total caloric intake, based on age group.
The percentages are lower than many public-health activists have cited in urging cities and states to impose new restrictions on some restaurant foods and beverages.
Between 63 percent and 70 percent of caloric intake in the U.S. diet came from purchases made at supermarkets, grocery- and c-stores. The balance comes from school foods and other sources, the research found.
The peer-reviewed study, which was published in the Nutrition Journal, looked at the purchase locations and specific food sources of 22,852 people in the United States, including children aged 6 years to adults aged 51 years or older. The study was based on five years of data from 2003 to 2008 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES.
Dr. Joy Dubost, the NRA’s director of nutrition, said the study provides the first real in-depth analysis of the caloric intake of different age groups by specific food location and food source.
“This study really is the first to look at caloric intake from purchase location and food categories by age group,” she said. “It dispels the notion that one-third of caloric intake in this country comes from restaurant food. Depending on age, the percentage of calories from either quickservice or fullservice restaurants can be much less.”
According to the study, food intake at quickservice restaurants represented between 12.5 percent and 17.5 percent of calories, while fullservice restaurants made up between 4.7 percent and 10.4 percent. School meals provided 9.8 percent of calories for children and 5.5 percent for adolescents.
The analysis further found that sugar-sweetened beverages served at quickservice restaurants made up between 1.0 and 1.4 percent of people’s caloric intake, whereas store-sourced sugary beverages made up four times that amount.
Dubost said the finding disproves the claim by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration that a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants would reduce the rising obesity rate in that city.
On June 11 a state appeals court heard arguments regarding the ban and is now considering whether to reverse a judge’s ruling last March that struck down a regulation limiting the size of sugar-sweetened beverages sold at restaurants, delis, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas, to 16 ounces.
“The data show that restaurants do not largely contribute to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” Dubost said. “This will help us combat some policy initiatives that are based on myth and misperceptions, not on solid science.”
She added that the data would also help restaurateurs become more aware of which restaurant foods are the biggest contributors of calories to Americans’ diets.
“The industry as a whole has a role to play in fighting the obesity epidemic,” she said. “This data will help inform us, as we continue to try to reduce calories in the American diet.”