Forget the stereotype of families on benefits gorging themselves on fast food - it's yuppies in their 20s who are most likely to be stuffing their faces with pizzas and burgers.
New research from Otago University shows nearly a third of New Zealanders eat fast food on any given day - that's everything from a burger to a coffee - but it's got nothing to do with socio-economic status.
Unlike in the United States, fast food and restaurant food is expensive in New Zealand, which means it is people on higher incomes and with a higher education who are most likely to eat it, according to researcher Claire Smith.
The research used data from the Adult Nutrition Survey 2008-09, which tracked the eating habits of nearly 5000 people, to look at consumption of fast food, restaurant and cafe food against a person's income, education, ethnicity, level of deprivation, age, gender and marital status.
It shows that those living in affluent areas are just as likely as those in poor areas to report eating fast food, and are more likely to eat in restaurants and cafes.
People often associated obesity and unhealthy eating with poor communities, but the study had shown that was not true, Dr Smith said.
"There is this image out there that fast-food consumption is associated with a low socio-economic status, that people are lazy and not cooking ...
"Actually, those living on government benefits and those living in more deprived areas aren't at all more likely to be reporting fast food."
Obesity remained a big issue for those on lower incomes, but eating habits were only a small part of the picture - less physical activity, less active jobs and transport, and the way people organised their lives were all factors, she said.
The study also shows that 19 to 30-year-olds are the biggest consumers of fast food, and Dr Smith said more research needed to be done to see if this trend was likely to continue as those people grew older, or if habits would change.
The speed and convenience of fast food would always appeal to younger people, and it was important to make sure healthy options were available too, she said.
"I think it's lifestyle - they're less likely to go home to a family, being busy, possibly some of them have more disposable income. And if it's just you and your partner, it's cheaper to do that than if you were taking kids out."
HAPPY TO OUTSAUCE THE DIET
Law student Jacob Meagher rarely has anything more than milk, cereal and coffee in his kitchen, and eats out more often than he eats in.
"If I could afford it, I would live on cheese and crackers," he says.
That makes the 20-year-old typical of most people aged between 19 and 30, according to research from Otago University.
Between classes at Victoria University's law school, Mr Meagher can be seen grazing at cafes around the CBD, though he says he tends to opt for a panini or sushi, rather than a quick and greasy takeaway.
Fellow law student Simon Lynch, 21, says he has eaten at home only once in the past fortnight and was unabashed about his taste for low-brow fast-food options.
He says he balances it out with "green stuff" when he is at cafes and restaurants, but because he cannot see any immediate effect on his health or waistline, all the fast food does not worry him.
"If I had ill-effects from it, I might not, but I don't seem to notice it - I'm aware, but ignorant," he says.
"I'm waiting for my metabolism to slow down."
Esther Kim, 21, bucks the trend - she does a weekly shop, brings a packed lunch or leftovers every day and tops it up with fruit.
Because she spends a lot of time studying and working, eating at a restaurant with friends is an easy way to catch up, and going for a Thai or Malaysian meal does not seem like an unhealthy choice, she says.
"Compared to my peers and people I see around me ... they're so unhealthy and sometimes I look at their food and I'm like, whoa."
FISH HAS HAD ITS CHIPS
Findings from the Otago University study:
- Fish 'n' chips are being superseded by bread-based foods such as pizza, burgers and sammies.
- Nearly a third of New Zealanders report eating fast food on any one day.
- 19 to 30-year-olds eat the most fast food.
- Maori eat more fast food than NZ European and Pacific peoples.
- People in households of four or more eat more fast food.
- Single people eat more fast food than couples.
- People in cities are more likely to eat fast food.
- People with tertiary qualifications and higher incomes are more likely to eat at restaurants.
- Men are more likely than women to eat fast food.
- 14 per cent eat in a restaurant or cafe on any one day.
- Fast food makes up about nine per cent of our calories.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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