“My boyfriend is out of town, so I’ll probably eat popcorn and ice cream for dinner,” a friend of mine recently joked. It seems intuitive: when we’re only feeding ourselves, it’s easy to make unhealthy and even totally weird meal choices.
A recent survey from the Queensland University of Technology confirms that people who eat alone are less likely to have healthy diets. The researchers found that people who live alone not only eat a less diverse diet, but also eat less fruits and vegetables.
The researchers have a number of ideas of what might contribute to worse diets for single people. First, there’s the absence of accountability to others, or the potential encouragement to eat well from others. The lack of social pleasures of cooking and eating with family or roommates may also lead people to eat simpler dishes or pre-packaged meals.
Lack of cooking skills, particularly for men, might also be part of the problem. That particularly goes for divorced or widowed people who might have previously relied on a partner to cook. The study found that single men have poorer diets than their female counterparts.
Finally, single people may eat fewer fruits and veggies because it can be harder for one person to keep fresh produce at home without it going bad or making frequent grocery shopping trips. "Economic factors also explain lower consumption of foods like fruits and vegetables and fish, as they require more frequent purchase and consumption,” says researcher Dr. Katherine Hanna.
This research supports similar findings in other populations. For example, a 20-year study conducted in Europe found that older people who live along eat fewer servings of vegetables per day.
Assuming that the solo dining habits of the U.S. population are similar to the those of the Australians (it may not be), this research could point to a potential health concern for the already not-too-stellar American diet. Earlier this year, a study found that 60 percent of Americans eat alone on a regular basis.
Something to think about the next time you’re dining alone.