Are Takeout Meals Impacting Your Health?

Fitness & Food


A study determines the association between frequent takeout meals and daily energy intake by considering socio-demographic and anthropometric factors.

Eating out instead of cooking at home has been on the rise. However, takeout meals and food served in restaurants often contain more calories than people need. Takeout food is usually high in energy, fat, salt, and sugar and the portion sizes are large. Although food labelling is intended to help people assess calorie intake, it is nonetheless hard for people to judge the calorie content of takeout meals and restaurant food. The high-calorie intake and large portion sizes represent risk factors for overweight, obesity, and other diet-related chronic diseases.

Energy intake, which is the total number of calories taken in daily, may be important as a determinant of certain diseases. Several studies have reported the association of takeout food with total energy intake. The frequency of consumption of takeout food governs the effect on total energy intake of an individual. Previous studies in the United Kingdom have shown that during 2008-2012, about one-quarter of adults and one-fifth of children consumed takeout meals at least once a week. Furthermore, based on a UK report, the food expenditure on takeout food has risen from 21% in 1995 to 50% in 2014. The increased expenditure is a result of an increased availability of restaurants and takeout meals contributing in turn to a rise in weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

Recently, a UK based study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity analyzed the impact of habitual patterns of restaurant food and takeout meal consumption on mean daily energy intake across all ages while adjusting for socio-demographic and anthropometric factors. The researchers combined data from four waves of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013.

The participants in the study completed a four-day food diary and took part in an interview to generate data on dietary habits, socio-demographic status, and lifestyle. Mean daily energy intake for each participant was obtained from food diary data. The frequency of eating meals out and takeout meals at home were scaled into three categories: rarely or never, one to two times per month, and one or more times per week.

Adults who consumed meals out of home for one or more times a week were found to have a higher mean daily energy intake of 75-104 kcal more per day compared to those who ate takeout meals rarely. The increase in energy intake was 63-87 kcal more per day in case of takeout meals eaten at home. In case of children, increase in total energy intake was 55-168 kcal more per day for takeout meals while there was no association observed between energy intake and eating out. In addition, in children, the socio-economic position was found to be associated with consumption of takeout meals. Interestingly, children from less affluent families had a higher frequency of consuming a takeout meal compared with children living in higher administrative, managerial, and professional households.

The results of the study revealed a positive relationship between frequent consumption of takeout meals and mean daily energy intake for both adults and children. Studies done in the US have also found significant positive associations between frequency of takeout food consumption and energy intake.

The strength of this study is that it investigated a range of explanatory variables thus making sure that it is not underpowered. The study results were appropriately adjusted for all confounders of socio-demographic variables. The limitations of the study include a possibility of misreporting or underreporting of daily energy intake using the food diary data.

The study results clearly suggest that increasing access to takeout food is having an adverse impact on overall diet quality. Increased frequency of consumption of takeout meals and meals in a restaurant was found to be associated with an increased daily energy intake in both adults and children. Moreover, children from less affluent households were more likely to be consuming takeout meals than children from more affluent families. These findings add to the already existing evidence that suggests that frequent takeout food consumption has an adverse impact on health. There is a need for interventions that will help reduce the energy density and portion sizes of foods served in restaurants and takeout food outlets and help individuals make healthier choices when eating out.

Written by Preeti Paul, MS Biochemistry

Reference: Louis Goffe, Stephen Rushton et al., Relationship between mean daily energy intake and frequency of consumption of out-of-home meals in the UK National diet and Nutrition Survey, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (2017) 14:131



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