Studying what and how people choose to eat while dining out reveals important nutritional attitudes and trends. To stay informed, Aramark Corp. annually conducts more than 5,000 online interviews to discover Americans' away-from-home dining habits and nutritional preferences.
Collected by Datassential Research through online questionnaires and analyzed by Candice Bennett & Associates, the data indicated a rising health awareness among the population, increasing from 50 percent concerned about nutrition in 2004 to 54 percent in 2005. However, consumers are still motivated by other factors such as quick and easy meals and the financial value of larger portions.
Interest in nutrition doesn't indicate low BMI
The largest category of respondents, weighted to represent 20 percent of the American adult population, is interested in eating well, with 98 percent concerned about the nutritional value of their food. However, the body mass index (BMI) of individuals in this group is the highest, averaging 29.7. (A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight. One point more: 30 and greater is clinically obese.) A little more than half of the people in this category blamed their weight on busy lifestyles.
Perception of Weight is Flawed
During the course of the 2006 study, Aramark discovered that only one in 10 Americans whose BMI classifies them as obese recognize they have a weight problem.
"There seems to be a real disconnect between perception and reality among those who are clinically obese," said Chris Malone, Aramark senior vice president of marketing.
The 2006 research, which logged respondents' self-reported weight and height, showed an increase in the average BMI, which now stands at 29.0. This puts the typical American clearly overweight and very close to obesity. The average weight was reported to be 188.3 pounds, 2.5 pounds heavier than the 2005 average.
The data, grouping like respondents, indicates a difference of 2.5 BMI between the category with the highest BMI and the lowest: 27.2 BMI. Surprisingly, those on the low end of the weight scale find health consciousness to be an extremely low concern.
BMI not correlated with vending use
Both of these groups, the lowest and highest BMI individuals, use vending machines fairly regularly, averaging one to two times a day, which is very close to the national average of 1.5/day.
By far the highest usage, hovering just below three times a day, are those people who eat out most often. These individuals represent 12 percent of the population, are mostly male, with an average BMI close to 28.7, and have a tendency not to be concerned with the nutritional value of foods.
Good and bad health trends: media Creations?
These are no doubt the people that fast food chains like CKE Restaurants Inc. (the Carpinteria, Calif.-based operator of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.) are targeting when they buck the health trend exploited by giants like McDonalds. Andrew Puzder, CKE's chief executive, told The Los Angeles Times, "The way people like to think they eat, and the way they actually eat is usually very different." Puzder points to the low sales of salads and other "healthy" items at his restaurants as proof this is a trend more in the media than people's eating habits. That is why CKE has brought a jumbo-sized cheeseburger smothered in sliced steak to its restaurants.
Continued strife over whether nutrition should be regulated in some way comes from watchdog organizations that have lobbied to remove soft drinks from schools, analyzed wellness policies, and are rallying for a sugar, soda, fat or other "twinkie" tax.
Even corporations are jumping on the bandwagon. USA Today recently reported on companies following the cafeteria reform of schools. Most notable was Mortgage Lenders Network USA, where the lunchroom in the new facility will include herbs and vegetables grown on-site. Breakrooms will be stocked with complementary fruit from local orchards. Another office has started instituting Fresh Fruit Fridays in break areas. The management used to buy doughnuts, but felt there was a mixed message being sent, so now there are bananas, apples and other fruit.