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Restaurant guests making healthful choices

NPD: Consumers straying from foods high in fat, toward items including grilled chicken, fruit and yogurt

For years Americans have talked about the importance of eating more healthfully in restaurants, and now it seems as if they’re finally beginning to take their own advice, according to a new study from The NPD Group.

The Chicago-based foodservice market research firm said consumers over the past decade have been cutting down on foods that are high in sugar or fat, and shifting more toward items that could be seen as being more nutritious.

NPD’s CREST service, which tracks consumer usage of restaurants, has found a gradual decrease in consumption of carbonated soft drinks, hot dogs, fried chicken and French fries, and a modest increase in the purchase of milk, grilled chicken and grilled chicken sandwiches, non-fried fish, breakfast cereals, fruit and yogurt.

NPD said 410 million more sandwiches with grilled, broiled or roasted chicken were ordered in the year ending August 2010 compared with the year ended December 2001

Broiled, baked, grilled and raw fish was ordered 111 million more times while fried fish consumption was down by 187 million orders.

Hot and cold breakfast cereal was up by 134 million, grilled chicken not in a sandwich was up by 111 million orders and fried chicken was down by 477 million.

French fries fell by 1.6 billion orders and 2.8 billion fewer carbonated soft drinks were ordered, NPD reported.

NPD restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs said the shift could be due in part to the increasing availability of healthier foods on restaurant menus. “Restaurant operators are responding to their customers’ needs for healthier or lighter foods,” she said.

Indeed, as Nation's Restaurant News reported earlier, many operators are reacting both to consumer demand and to pending regulations that will require chains with 20 or more units to post nutrition data by developing lower-calorie items or marketing lower-calorie combinations.

That result was predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in a 2005 report assessing the likely effects of menu labeling and growing concerns about obesity in this country.

Obesity rates, which had been increasing, appear to have stabilized earlier in the decade, however, according to results of the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association — and  which has been carrying out health examinations of a representative sample of Americans since 1960.

Although obesity among Americans increased by about 8 percentage points between the late 1970s and early 1990s, obesity rates in women have not risen in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, growth in obesity rates in men appears to have plateaued around 2004, the study indicated.

Nevertheless, 68 percent of Americans are overweight, and nearly half of those are obese.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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