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ERS Report Finds Working from Home Leads to Eating at Home

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Services (ERS) has published a study that found working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to people spending more time preparing food and eating meals at home. ERS wanted to know if Americans who work from home allocate their time spent on daily tasks differently than those who work away from home.

ERS used data from 2017-2018 Leave and Flexibilities Job Module of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS) for their analysis. Particularly, they studied the amount of time survey respondents spent in food preparation and eating at home according to the location from which they worked the day covered by the ATUS interview. ERS compared prime working-age adults (25-54 years old) who worked exclusively from home to prime working-age adults who worked exclusively somewhere other than their home.

The study found that 78% of prime working-age adults reported eating at home on an average weekday over 2017-2018, spending about 29 minutes doing so. Individuals were more likely to eat at home when they were working from home than when they were working away from home (89% versus 77%). Individuals who worked from home spent 49 minutes eating at home, which was nearly double the amount reported by individuals who worked away from home.

ERS also found that 64% of prime working-age adults engaged in food preparation activities, such as food and drink preparation, food presentation, kitchen and food clean-up, grocery shopping, and travel to and from the grocery store, and they spent an average of 31 minutes engaged in these activities. When researchers broke down the overall sample by the worker’s worksite, they found differences in time spent preparing food. Prime working-age adults who worked from home were more likely to engage in food preparation activities (75% versus 63%) and to spend 11 minutes more on these activities than individuals who worked away from home.

These results show significant variation in the daily time allocation of workers in their prime working years and suggest that working from home may allow for substantially more time to prepare food and consume food at home. If the greater time spent preparing food translates into eating more home-prepared meals and less eating out, those who are working from home may also experience a healthier diet.

These changes are important because working from home and the shutdowns have affected various industries, such as the meat and protein industry. “Trends in consumer demand for at-home and away-from-home consumption are central to the profitability and viability of the U.S. animal protein supply chain,” said Will Sawyer, lead animal protein economist with CoBank. “As the U.S. foodservice sector climbs out of the hole left by 2020, the animal protein sector will not only need to realign itself with the survivors of the last year but also remain flexible.”