1980 to 16 percent in 2000 (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2003).

Differences among ethnic groups (e.g., African American, American Indian, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islanders) include variations in household composition and size—particularly larger household size in Hispanic and Asian populations (Frey, 2003)—and in other aspects of family life such as media use and exposure, consumer behavior, eating, and physical activity patterns (Tharp, 2001; Nesbitt et al., 2004).

Ethnic minorities are projected to comprise 40.2 percent of the U.S. population by 2020 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), and the food preferences of ethnic families are expected to have a significant impact on consumers’ food preferences and eating patterns (Sloan, 2003). The higher-than-average prevalence of obesity in several ethnic minority populations may indicate differences in susceptibility to unfavorable lifestyle trends and the consequent need for specially designed preventive and corrective strategies (Kumanyika, 2002; Nesbitt et al., 2004).

Eating Patterns

As economic demands and the rapid pace of daily life increasingly constrain people’s time, food trends have been marked by convenience, shelf stability, portability, and greater accessibility of foods throughout the entire day (Food Marketing Institute, 1996, 2003; French et al., 2001; Sloan, 2003). Food has become more available wherever people spend time. Because of technological advances, it is often possible to acquire a variety of highly palatable foods, in larger portion sizes, and at relatively low cost. Research has revealed a progressive increase, from 1977 to 1998, in the portion sizes of many types of foods and beverages available to Americans (Nielsen and Popkin, 2003; Smiciklas-Wright et al., 2003); and the concurrent rise in obesity prevalence has been noted (Nestle, 2003; Rolls, 2003).

Foods eaten outside the home are becoming more important in determining the nutritional quality of Americans’ diets, especially for children (Lin et al., 1999b; French et al., 2001). Consumption of away-from-home foods comprised 20 percent of children’s total calorie intake in 1977-1978 and rose to 32 percent in 1994-1996 (Lin et al., 1999b). In 1970, household income spent on away-from-home foods accounted for 25 percent of total food spending; by 1999, it had reached nearly one-half (47 percent) of total food expenditures (Clauson, 1999; Kennedy et al., 1999).

The trend toward eating more meals in restaurants and fast food establishments may be influenced not only by simple convenience but also in response to needs such as stress management, relief of fatigue, lack of time, and entertainment. According to a 1998 survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, two-thirds of Americans indicated that patronizing



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