Summary Findings

American eating patterns: 2014

Examining the eating patterns of the U.S. population is a key factor in better understanding the determinants of the nutrition and health status of Americans. An analysis of the time that Americans spend in various activities—and, in particular, food-related activity—may provide some insight into why nutrition and health outcomes vary over time and across different segments of the population. Such insights could help improve programs and policies targeted at reducing obesity and improving overall nutrition.

ERS collected data on Americans’ time use and eating patterns in the ERS-developed Eating and Health Module (EH Module) of the nationally representative American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Data were collected on soft drink consumption, Body Mass Index (BMI), exercise frequency, USDA food assistance program participation, grocery shopping, meal preparation, meat thermometer usage, and raw milk consumption in 2014. Findings from the 2014 EH Module include the following:

On an average day in 2014, Americans age 15 and older spent 64 minutes eating and drinking as a "primary," or main, activity, and 16 minutes eating as a secondary activity—that is, eating while engaged in another activity such as watching television, driving, preparing meals, or working. On an average day, men spent more time engaged in primary eating and drinking than women.  

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On average, individuals age 65 and older spent considerably more time on primary eating and drinking—an average of 76.3 minutes per day—than younger individuals. 

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A larger share of men reported consuming regular soft drinks while engaged in other activities, while a larger share of women reported consuming diet soft drinks. Those who consumed diet soft drinks while multi-tasking had a higher average body mass index (BMI) than those who consumed regular soft drinks.

Among those individuals who reported being the household’s usual meal preparer or who split the task equally with other household members, 89 percent had prepared some form of meat in the previous week; of those, 13 percent used a meat/food thermometer when preparing meat for household consumption. Individuals who did prepare meat spent an average of 51 minutes in meal preparation and cleanup, whereas those who did not prepare meat spent only about half the time—an average of 26 minutes.

Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC Program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) participants, and those with household income less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold all spent more time preparing food and cleaning up, on an average day, than others.

SNAP participants were less likely to grocery shop on an average day than others—13.8 percent shopped for groceries on an average day in 2014, which is equivalent to grocery shopping every 7.2 days; whereas 15 percent of nonparticipants grocery shopped on an average day, equivalent to shopping every 6.7 days. Those who were food insufficient reported the lowest grocery shopping rate, 10.3 percent on an average day, equivalent to grocery shopping every 9.7 days.

Obese individuals spent an average of 3.2 hours a day watching television and movies, whereas those of normal weight spent an average of 2.5 hours a day doing so.

Two-thirds of normal weight individuals reported exercising in the previous 7 days, whereas less than half (49.3 percent) of obese individuals exercised in the previous week.

See the 2014-16 Eating & Health Module User's Guide for more information about using the data.

Findings for the 2006-08 EH Modules are available in pdf format:

Last updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For more information contact: Karen Hamrick

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