Eating out accounts for over a third of young people’s diets

Cancer Council NSW
Young people are frequently eating out.

Australian first research from Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney has found that NSW young adults (aged 18-30), who are the most frequent consumers of meals prepared outside of home, eat out for one in three occasions, but it equates to 42% of their weekly kilojoules (energy), and over 40% of the saturated fat, salt and sugars they eat.

Cancer Council NSW’s Manager Nutrition Unit, Clare Hughes says, “For a young person this means as many as seven meals a week that haven’t been cooked or prepared at home.

“Many foods eaten out are high in energy, saturated fat, sugars and sodium and should be considered occasional foods, to be enjoyed on occasion as part of a healthy balanced diet. And while most young people consider eating out a ‘treat’, they might not realise just how much these foods and drinks are impacting their intake of energy, sugars, saturated fat and salt. Over time, that can lead to weight gain which is a risk factor for 13 different cancers.”

The study was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, with investigators from Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney, Cancer Council NSW and The University of Auckland.

Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli who oversaw the project from the University of Sydney says, “To date there is little Australian data available on the contribution that foods prepared away from home make to the diets of young adults and no data on the different types of food outlets that are the sources of these foods.

“This study used a purpose-designed smartphone app to shed light on the eating habits of young people. 1001 young adults in NSW recorded all the food and drinks they consumed over a three-day period, including where they were purchased from.”

Of foods eaten away from home, independent outlets contributed a significantly greater proportion of energy than chains covered by menu labelling legislation. Similar results were found for all other nutrients.

In light of the findings, Cancer Council NSW is calling for more detailed nutrition information at the point of purchase and making healthier products available through setting reformulation targets and serving size restrictions. Providing better information to young people on how to select healthier options when eating out is also needed.

“Foods and drinks from independent outlets are making a greater contribution to intakes than outlets that are required to meet menu energy-labelling regulations, so we also want to see menu labelling legislation extended to more of these outlets to provide young adults with more information about the food they buy,” Ms Hughes continues.

“During the transition into adulthood, diet quality often declines, and weight gain can be rapid. Young adults experience the highest rate of weight gain of any age group in Australia.”

Keeping your weight within the healthy range and avoiding weight gain as an adult is an important way to reduce your cancer risk,” Ms Hughes concludes.

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