New research uncovers what’s driving young adults poor eating habits outside of home

New research from Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney has revealed that one in four meals and snacks consumed by 18-30-year-olds are prepared outside the home yet they contribute around 40% of the energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium they consumed each day.

Focus group research carried out with young adults in Sydney and Parramatta highlighted two key trends that influence what they eat. Firstly, eating out was viewed as a special occasion so eating healthy food was not considered a priority. Secondly, smartphones were important tools for eating out, providing instant access to reviews and recommendations and also enabling food delivery via apps like UberEats and Deliveroo.

Cancer Council NSW’s Nutrition Program Manager, Clare Hughes said these new findings provide important insights to help address Australia’s rising obesity rates. “We know that young adults are the highest consumers of fast foods and spend the largest proportion of their food budget on fast foods and eating out. The rate of obesity amongst young adults has increased significantly since 2014, with more than a third of young people in NSW now overweight or obese.”

Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli from Sydney University Charles Perkins Centre and an author on this research said, “the food choices of young adults are influenced by many factors, but this study has shown that besides choosing foods that taste good, are convenient and are low cost, young people are influenced by persuasive food imagery posted by friends and others on social media, and reviews on websites. This positions young adults as a highly desirable target population for online marketing of high energy, poor quality foods.”

In light of the findings, Cancer Council NSW is calling on the NSW Government to expand menu labelling systems to incorporate more outlets, including online apps. “Governments need to invest in public awareness campaigns promoting healthy weight among young adults, and the importance of making healthy choices when eating away from home.” Ms Hughes said.

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