Friday, February 13, 2009

Time use, food preparation, and risk of overweight

USDA's Economic Research Service has just posted 2007 results from the special module on eating and health in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS).

I frequently hear questions about time use and food policy. For example, many people wonder if the high cost of healthy food prevents Americans from choosing good diets. On reflection, many healthy and affordable food options are mixed in with the junk on the market. Next, many people wonder if some combination of price and the time burden of buying and preparing healthy food is to blame.

So, let's turn to the facts.

Here is my graphic based on Table 6 of the 2007 results on the ERS website. I left out the activities for sleeping, working, and eating and drinking as secondary activities while doing something else as a primary activity. You can follow the link for the table to confirm that the omissions just simplify the picture without cherry-picking. The graphic shows the number of minutes spent in several activities, for adults, computed separately according to the responding adult's weight status based on self-reported weight and height.

The questions are: (a) is it true that lack of shopping time and food preparation time are preventing us from eating healthy? (b) what time use activity is most noticeably and systematically associated with weight status?

In short: (c) what is the elephant in the room when it comes to time use?

7 comments:

extramsg said...

Hey, who are you calling an elephant!

Obviously, it's still just an association, but intuitively it's a reasonable cause that people who sit on their ass are fatter than other people. (Though it's reasonable that genetically sedentary people are more likely to enjoy watching TV and that people who are fat have a tougher time doing something other than sedentary activities.)

Important, but not too surprising, piece of data, however.

Jack Everitt said...

"is it true that lack of shopping time and food preparation time are preventing us from eating healthy?"

Lack of? I say it's simply choosing to get a fast food meal, or reheat some industrial crap so that they can watch TV.

The more you care about what you eat (which takes more time to acquire/prepare), the less weight you have compared to those who spend less time on food shopping/cooking.

Any way, great job of sifting through the data!

Janet said...

What a great graphic. Besides the TV viewing elephant, the food-shopping and prep mouse is interesting too--the most obese appear to spend the least time shopping for an preparing food. It more than supports Jack Everitt's on-target assertion re food choices.

extramsg said...

Doubtful that you two are correct and the data doesn't seem to point that direction. I'd be interested to see if it is even considered a statistically significant variation among the weight groups for preparing food. The differences are 5% or less and underweight people spend a lot less time on food prep compared to normal weight people than do the obese or overweight. Basically, everything is a straight line except media viewing. Why is the question that needs to be answered.

Janet said...

extramsg,
One of us is reading the data wrong. Looks to me like overweight and obese people spend 12-15% less time in food shopping and food prep than normal weight people, with underweight falling in between the normal and heavy groups. As you say, it's small relative to the TV factor, but not insignificant, I don't think.

Ted Wilde said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Parke Wilde said...

Ted Wilde writes:

Our family cancelled cable TV and I am reading more. This increased my awareness of the different calorie intake among sedentary activities, most of which probably have similar calorie expenditures. Snacking is the ideal multi-tasking activity to accompany TV watching. Whereas, snacking does not complement reading or computer time. Few people want grease on their book or crumbs in their keyboard. And knitters don't snack at all.