How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?

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Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Earlier this month and just in time for Thanksgiving, the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service issued a report called How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?

The findings include some things we already knew, such as women spend more time grocery shopping than men do, and obese people watch more television than “normal” people do. Men raid the refrigerator at night more frequently than women do. People who live alone are more likely to eat alone. Etc.

The findings include other things we may not have known already but that seem fairly obvious, such as poor people spend less time eating and drinking than people with higher incomes, and people who eat in front of the television are fatter than people who eat while doing pretty much anything else.

The rest is pretty interesting:

  • On average, adult Americans spend 67 minutes a day doing nothing but eating and drinking, and 23.5 minutes a day eating and drinking while doing something else (working, driving, watching TV). That’s about half an hour per meal, assuming three meals a day. I don’t think that’s enough.
  • Eleven percent of the population spends at least 4.5 hours a day eating and drinking. That’s more like an hour and a half per meal. Much better. If I had my way, I’d spend an hour with breakfast, an hour with lunch, and at least 1.5 to 2.0 hours with dinner and dessert, interspersed with nice snacks. My family spent 3.2 hours on Thanksgiving dinner (excluding snacks and appetizers).
  • Another 11 percent of us are what USDA calls “constant grazers.” These are people who spend 75 minutes a day doing nothing but eating and drinking, 2.2 hours eating while doing something else, and 8 hours a day (i.e., ALL DAY), doing nothing but drinking, which is defined to exclude water. That comes to more than 11 hours of eating and drinking every day — most of a normal person’s time awake. If these people didn’t need to sleep, they’d probably eat more.
  • Four percent of us appear never to sit down to a proper meal at an old-fashioned dinner table. Instead, we spend all our eating and drinking time doing something else as well (mostly watching TV). I would have expected that figure to be higher.
  • People in the Northeast and the West spent more time eating than anyone else. The study didn’t look at this but I suspect average BMIs are lower in those regions as well.
  • Almost 70 percent of Americans do their primary eating and drinking at home. Only 0.2 percent of us do our “primary eating” on a “mode of transportation.”

What the study did not research is what percentage of meals eaten every day are home-made. That would be interesting to study. Just because one eats at home does not mean one eats well. Especially if one is a “constant grazer” and one spends 8 hours a day drinking something other than water.

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

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