One in three meals bought from fast food outlets contain 1300 kcal or more – more than double the calories recommended for a meal, new analysis from innovation charity Nesta reveals.

Nesta’s analysis is a first of its kind look at the meals people purchase from the out-of-home (OOH) sector across Great Britain. ‘Out of home’ means any prepared food or drink purchased for immediate consumption.

A fifth of all out-of-home meals bought – whether from fast food outlets, restaurants, cafes or retail sandwich counters – contain at least 1300 kcal. Three-fifths exceed the recommended level of 600 kcals per meal, including purchases from supermarkets such as meal deals that have an average calorie content of 730 kcal. Across the UK, two-thirds of all adults are living with excess weight.

Lauren Bowes Byatt, Deputy Director of Nesta’s health team, said: “The takeaways, cafes, restaurants and bakeries in our neighbourhoods and high streets are hugely important parts of our communities – they are the places we go for a quick bite on the go or to spend time with friends and family.

“But our analysis shows the majority of meals are more calorific than the recommended amount needed per meal to stay healthy. That includes some supermarket sandwich meal deals and, perhaps less surprisingly, takeaway meals like pizzas. With fast food the worst offender, many of the meals come in at over double the recommended amount of calories. Some meals contain more calories than our recommended allowance for a whole day.

“This could be making a real contribution to rising obesity rates, which have doubled since the early 1990s and is now one of the top causes of ill health in Britain. We need action if we are to turn the tide and improve the nation’s health.”

Pizzas have the highest calorie content on average, with some containing almost all  of the recommended daily allowance. Sandwiches and wraps from retail shops, including supermarkets, are purchased the most often and so contribute the most calories to our diets in total – contributing 11% of all calories purchased in the sector, while pizzas contribute 7.5%.

Approximately 60% of the population purchase OOH meals at least once a week and 11% – around 7 million – use it, on average, once a day, according to Nesta’s analysis. The research also shows that on average people living with excess weight purchase a greater proportion of calories from fast food outlets than people with a healthy weight.

The average calories purchased per trip is 1072 kcal while common meal purchases from fast food outlets have an average calorie content of 1121 kcal with nearly one-third of meals exceeding 1300 kcal. It is recommended by the NHS that adults have between 2,000 and 2,500 kcals per day to maintain a healthy weight.


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