Taking time to eat and drink

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Whether it is at home, work, a restaurant or on the go, Americans are spending a lot of time eating and drinking — in some cases as much as 4.5 hours per day. That was the conclusion reached by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its new "Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey" released in late May.

According to the survey, in 2006 Americans ages 15 and older spent 67 minutes during an average day in "primary" eating and drinking of beverages, and 16 minutes eating and 42 minutes drinking as a "secondary" activity. A "primary" activity was defined as a self-reported main activity, while a "secondary" activity was defined as eating while engaged in another activity considered primary by the individual, such as working, watching television or playing sports.

In all, Americans spent about 127 minutes each day in 2006 on eating and drinking, the E.R.S. said.

For a select few, eating and drinking did not merit a dedicated time slot during the course of the day. According to the survey, 4% of Americans said they spent no time in primary eating and drinking, but did spend an average of 35 minutes in secondary eating and 107 minutes in secondary drinking.

For others, the opportunity to eat and drink served as a foundation for the day. Approximately 8% of the population spent 4.5 hours or more each day eating and drinking. The individuals who fell into this category are referred to as "constant grazers," spending most of their time in secondary drinking or sipping of beverages, the E.R.S. noted.

While no discernible difference in eating and drinking patterns was noted between men and women, the survey did find that the older the individual, the more time was spent in primary eating and drinking. Individuals ages 65 and older spent an average of 81 minutes each day in primary eating and drinking, which compared with a shade more than 60 minutes per day for individuals ages 25 to 64, and a little less than 60 minutes per day for the 15 to 24 age bracket. Older Americans spent less time in secondary eating and drinking beverages, though, the survey said.

Approximately two-thirds of Americans’ primary eating and drinking activities were with family or others, the E.R.S. said, while 42% of secondary eating and drinking took place with family or others.

The E.R.S. survey found Americans of different weight categories spent about the same amount of time engaged in eating and drinking, but the average time spent by Americans working for pay, sleeping, watching television and participating in sports and exercise varied considerably by Body Mass Index. Individuals who were overweight or obese spent more time watching television and less time participating in sports and exercise than did those of normal weight, according to the report. The overweight group also spent the most time engaged in paid work activities and had the lowest average times sleeping.

In addition to eating and drinking patterns, the E.R.S. survey examined grocery shopping and meal preparation. Based on self-reports, 54% of men said they were not the usual person responsible for grocery shopping in the household and 58% said they were not the usual person responsible for meal preparation. Over two-thirds of the women surveyed said they were the usual person responsible for both tasks.

Not only were men found to be less likely to do the family’s grocery shopping, they also spent less time actually shopping when in the store, at 6 minutes per day versus 9 minutes per day for women. For the men who said they actually did the family shopping, the average time in the store was 37 minutes, which compared with 45 minutes for the women, the E.R.S. said.

Among the usual meal preparers, men spent an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals while women spent 55 minutes. Of those who split meal preparation equally with other household member, men spent an average of 25 minutes per day, compared with women at 34 minutes.

For more information on the survey visit www.ers.usda.gov.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, June 24, 2008, starting on Page 24. Click here to search that archive.

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