This is according to a review of 243 studies on the topic of convenience foods.
They found that 77% (n = 189) of the studies did not provide a clear definition for the concept of 'convenience' and its interpretation. Among those that did define it, substantial variations existed, and no single definition encompassed all dimensions of convenience in relation to the food environment and associated consumer behaviours.
Furthermore, researchers observed that a majority (n = 92, 38%) of the reviewed studies looked at convenience as a key factor influencing food choices or consumption, particularly within specific population groups or contexts.
64% (n = 86) were conducted in high-income countries, with a notable concentration in the United States. Conversely, only 6% of studies were carried out in low-income countries, with South Asia receiving the least attention (n = 14 studies). A limited number of studies (n = 12) had a multi-country focus.
The predominant method for measuring convenience was through surveys or questionnaires, employed by 80% of the studies (n = 195). When examining convenience in relation to specific environments, 53% of the studies focused on the personal or home food environment, followed closely by the formal retail food environment (40%).
Moreover, 55% of the studies measured convenience in relation to only a single food-related behaviour, with a primary emphasis on food acquisition (n = 138, 57%) or food preparation (n = 137, 56%). Notably, 201 of the reviewed studies (83%) relied on perceived measures of convenience, based on the personal experiences of consumers.
The significance of defining convenience
The researchers claim that the understanding of convenience varies widely within the realms of nutrition and food environment research.
Convenience is often depicted as a positive attribute associated with time and effort-saving food practices. Simultaneously, it is used to characterise a category of foods, including fast-foods or ultra-processed foods (UPFs), that have adverse effects on health and nutrition outcomes.
This divergence in conceptualisation introduces ambiguity in health policy and practice, they added, raising the question of whether convenience should be promoted or discouraged to enhance public health nutrition?
Recognising this dilemma, researchers argue that establishing a clear definition provides an opportunity to precisely identify the dimensions and components of convenience relevant to the discussion.
Moreover, it helps pinpoint areas within food systems where convenience can be strategically employed to enhance nutrition.
“Future research should focus on developing and validating assessment tools that measure both the perceived and objective aspects of convenience in a comprehensive way that is aligned with the different components of the multifaceted definition of convenience,” The researchers wrote.
“Having a more comprehensive, agreed upon definition, as well as assessment tools that are aligned to that definition, will enable improved measurement of the ways in which convenience influences consumer behaviour with the view to identifying policy levers and interventions aimed at increasing consumption of healthy diets.”
Convenience as a dimension of food environments: A systematic scoping review of its definition and measurement
Authors: Jessica R. Bogard et al.