Eating Out Frequently Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Eating meals not prepared at home — either at a restaurant or as take-away food[1] — on a frequent basis is linked to a higher risk of death from all causes, as well as from cancer and heart disease[2], according to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics[3].

As noted in a press release[4] from the journal announcing the study results, the number of meals Americans eat that aren’t prepared at home has grown enormously over recent decades, with an estimated 17% of all calories consumed coming from such meals in 1977–1978, but twice that proportion, 34%, coming from such meals in 2011–2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture[5]. More recent data isn’t available, so it’s unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic[6] has affected habits when it comes to cooking at home or getting meals from outside the home.

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The press release notes that food prepared outside the home tends to be higher in calories, fat and sodium, and lower in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber and beneficial nutrients like antioxidants than food people prepare at home. So it’s natural that researchers would wonder what effect eating such meals has on the risk of death, including death from specific causes like cancer and heart disease. For the latest study, they looked at responses to questionnaires administered face-to-face as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey[8] between 1999 and 2014, including 35,084 adults ages 20 and older. The researchers then compared these responses to death records through the end of 2015, looking at both deaths in general and cause of death among survey participants.

During a total of 291,475 person-years of follow-up (an average of eight years per participant), 2,781 survey participants died. Out of these deaths, 638 were due to cancer and 511 were due to cardiovascular disease. When looking at how survey responses about eating out were linked to the risk and cause of death, the researchers adjusted for a number of different factors, including age, sex, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, and body-mass index[9] (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account). After these adjustments, they found that participants who ate meals prepared away from home most frequently — twice or more per day, on average — were 49% more likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period than those who ate such meals less than once per week. They were also 67% more likely to die from cancer, and 18% more likely to die of heart disease.

“This is one of the first studies to quantify the association between eating out and mortality,” explained study author Wei Bao, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Iowa, in the press release. These findings, according to Bao, “may inform future dietary guidelines to recommend reducing consumption of meals prepared away from home.”

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,”[10] “Top Tips for Healthier Eating”[11] and “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”[12]

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course![13]

  1. restaurant or as take-away food:
  2. heart disease:
  3. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
  4. press release:
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture:
  6. COVID-19 pandemic:
  7. sign up for our free newsletter:
  8. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey:
  9. body-mass index:
  10. “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,”:
  11. “Top Tips for Healthier Eating”:
  12. “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”:
  13. Check out our free type 2 e-course!:

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