STUDY: AMERICANS MORE AWARE OF WHAT THEY EAT [From the VNU Foodservice Network] PORT WASHINGTON, NY -- [From the VNU Foodservice Network, October 25, 2004] -- Is the tide turning on the country's seemingly endless round of weight gain? Are Americans finally learning to control their calorie intake and find more balance in their eating patterns? Could be, says a new study by The NPD Group. According to NPD's 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America, diners are becoming more calorie-conscious, and as a group are no longer gaining weight. They've put the brakes on snacking, and also on restaurant takeout meals. The bad news: They're eating less at restaurants overall. In the new report, 27% of respondents reported being conscious of the calories in their meals, the highest level since 1999. In addition, the number of snack meals eaten per person per year was 250 for the year ending February 2004, a slight decrease from five years ago when it was 253. Meanwhile, the number of overweight Americans held at 62% the second year in a rowup until 2002, the percent of Americans classified as overweight had increased every year since NPD began tracking it in 1995. "It appears that Americans are beginning to find a balance between the need for convenient, inexpensive meals and their expanding waistlines," said Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group. "We knew at some point this trend toward obesity would end, we just didn't know when. But remember, we haven't seen people begin to lose weight just yet." Balzer attributes the shift at least in part to the fact that the number of women in the workplace is also leveling off. "Women have always been the gatekeeper of families' eating habits and it appears that a balance is being found after years of wrestling with work and feeding the family." As part of these developments, the latest report shows a stabilization of meals eaten at home and a decrease in meals eaten at restaurants. The report finds that 77% of American meals come from home, which represents no significant change from last year. And while the restaurant industry shows recent signs of recovery, the average American ate out more in 1985 than last year. People sat down for a meal at a restaurant 83 times per person last year, compared with 95 meals per person in 1985. The increase in restaurant take-out meals has also leveled off after growing for more than a decadeAmerican consumed take-out meals from restaurants 117 times per person last year, the same as the year before. Other findings from the 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America: Fifty-five percent of people feel it's important to eat full and regular meals vs. 52% two years ago; "Fresh" matters to Americans, 55% of Americans say it's important for food to be fresh; Once again, Americans are becoming concerned about sugar in their diets; 22% of Americans are concerned about sugar, up from 20% in 2003.