Americans are less willing to pay more for healthy dishes, less knowledgeable about healthy menu items, and more likely to consider healthy items bland-tasting than they were three years ago, finds a Temple University analysis.
"The results underscore the importance of competitively pricing healthy foods," said Kelley E. Borradaile, Ph.D., lead author and research assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and the Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) at Temple University. She will present the findings at The North American Association for the Study of Obesity's 2007 Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans on Oct. 22.
Americans also reported eating out approximately five times a week in 2006. Fast-food restaurants were the most popular eating establishments for breakfast and lunch, while fast-food and casual dining were the two most popular places for dinner. Ease, convenience and cost were among the top reasons respondents ordered value/combo meals at fast-food restaurants.
Temple researchers found eating out can have serious consequences. The body mass index of those consuming three to six fast-food meals per week was significantly greater than the BMI -- a measure of body fat based on height and weight -- of those who reported never consuming fast-food meals or consuming one to two fast-food meals per week. Adding an additional one, two or three fast-food meals to that diet was associated with a .63-, 1.26-, and 1.89-kg increase in weight, respectively.
The study captured the behaviors and attitudes that influenced food choices when eating away from home between 2004 and 2006 in a nationally representative sample of the U.S adult population (18-98 years old). Data were analyzed in 2004, 2005 and 2006 with about 4,000 adults surveyed each year. Over the three-year period, 12,666 individuals took the survey.
In 2006, about 50 percent of respondents strongly agreed that they would be more likely to order healthy items if they were offered as part of a value/combo meal, and 41 percent would like to see actual nutritional information printed on menus.
"Because people will continue to eat outside the home, we need to make healthy foods more attractive in price and taste," said Gary D. Foster, director of CORE and president-elect of NAASO.
The responses across all three years were similar except for three: Americans were less likely to pay more for healthier foods, less knowledgeable about healthy menu items and more likely to consider healthy items bland-tasting in 2006 than in 2004, said Borradaile.
On a scale of one to seven, respondents in 2006 rated the following as the most appealing incentives for making healthier meal choices: better-tasting health foods, lower prices for healthy foods, more convenient availability of healthy foods and greater availability of healthy foods.
In recent years, restaurants have made efforts to increase the number and quality of healthy offerings. For example, McDonald's now offers grilled chicken sandwiches, fruit and yogurt parfaits and apple slices with low-fat caramel dip. Burger King pledged last month to offer kids healthier food options, such as apples cut to resemble french fries and a kids' meal with low-fat, flame-broiled chicken tenders, unsweetened applesauce and low-fat milk. The restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday's recently unveiled smaller portion sized meals at lower prices.
"Restaurant chains should be commended for increasing the number of healthy offerings; continued efforts are needed to make healthy food attractive to the palate and pocket," Foster said.