According to a report by Food For Thought, sales of pre-packaged food in Europe have increased by 14% in the past five years and are expected to grow a further 12% by 2016.
The European ready meal market is estimated at about €40bn with France, Germany and the UK accounting for about 60% of ready meal spending in 2013 when the market was valued at about €30bn.
Spanish shoppers made up another 12%. No other European country accounted for more than 4%.
The team from the University of Minnesota found that the reasons cited most often for buying pre-packaged, processed meals were lack of time (57%) and family preferences (49%).
Other reasons included ease in preparation for children (33%), low cost (27%), lack of ideas (22%) and catering to family tastes (11%).
Further analysis of these responses found that five of these six reasons were associated with lower self-belief in parental cooking skills and meal-planning ability.
“Because of the convenience and marketing of pre-packaged, processed meals, it is not entirely surprising that most parents buy frozen dinners to save time on preparation,” said lead author Dr Melissa Horning, assistant professor at the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota.
The concerns arising from this study stem from the influence pre-packaged, processed meals have over a lower availability of fruit and vegetables and greater availability of less nutritious foods.
Additional studies have demonstrated positive associations between foods available in the household and dietary intake of those foods.
Much evidence has pointed towards the home availability of pre-packaged, processed meals as significantly contributing to poorer dietary intake.
Effect on kids’ health
Of particular concern is the long-term effect of these kinds of foods on children’s health.
Estimates of the number of overweight infants and children in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Region rose steadily from 1990 to 2008.
Over 60% of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood.
Childhood obesity is strongly associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, orthopaedic problems, mental disorders, underachievement in school and lower self-esteem.
Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2016.08.012
“Reasons Parents Buy Prepackaged, Processed Meals: It Is More Complicated Than “I Don't Have Time”
Authors: Melissa Horning et al.