How the rise of online food delivery may be damaging our health

As lockdowns have restricted physical access to food and restaurant outlets, contact-free delivery is gaining in popularity. According to industry reports, Australians spend three times more than they did before the COVID-19 outbreak on online food deliveries.

Online food delivery will be a US$200 Billion industry globally by 2025.

These apps may provide access to many different foods, but they could be harmful to our health.

Fast food is more accessible with online food delivery.

In January and February 2020, we analyzed data gathered from Uber Eats. Uber Eats is the leading online food delivery service in Australia and New Zealand.

We looked at online food ordering for 233 Sydney suburbs and 186 Auckland suburbs with a population of 15-34-year-olds above the average. This age group is the largest consumer of online takeaway food.

Uber Eats in Sydney and Auckland offers 1,074 food outlets that we evaluated based on their nutritional quality and type.

During the pandemic, food delivery apps have seen a surge in popularity. Shutterstock

Fast-food chains topped the list of most popular food outlets. In Sydney, fast-food chains made up 38%, and in Auckland, 54% of the most popular food outlets.

Fast-food chains most popular in Sydney include McDonald’s (54 outlets, 8.4%), Subway (52%), Oporto (42%), and Domino’s (28%).

Subway was the most popular fast-food chain in Auckland (46 stores; 11.7%), followed by McDonald’s (40 outlets, 10.2%), Burger King 24 stores (6.1%), and Hell Pizza 20 stores (5.1%).

All of these fast-food chains are rated as the least healthy.

The Conversation asked Uber Eats to comment on their grocery section, and their spokesperson pointed out that it “[makes] fruit and vegetables more affordable for thousands of Australians.”

A spokesperson said that “quinoa and kale bowls, Brussels sprouts, brown rice, edamame acai kombucha hummus, acai acai acai edamame acai edamame acai acai acai acai acai acai acai acai kombucha hummus, hummus These items, according to our analysis, were not as popular as unhealthy menu items.

Independent outlets are rushing to join, but how healthy are their menus?

In Sydney, we found that independent takeaway shops like your local kebab or fish and chips shop are the second-most popular type of food outlet (30% of food outlets).

In a separate analysis, we analyzed menu items (13,841 total) from the 196 most popular independent takeaway shops in Sydney on Uber Eats. Based on the Australian Nutrition Guidelines, we classified 38 food and beverage categories.

More than 80% were “junk foods” or discretionary items. 42 % of the menu items were classified as “discretionary mixed cereal meals,” which include foods like pizzas, hamburgers, kebabs, and pride. Some other types of junk food include chicken schnitzel or battered fish, as well as sugary drinks.

Marketing tactics are not effective.

These two studies show the wide variety of unhealthy food items that are available on these platforms. In-app marketing can make it difficult for consumers to make healthier choices.

Unhealthier menu options were twice as likely as healthier items to be categorized as “most popular.” Harmful menu items are also nearly 1.5 times more likely than healthier ones to have a picture and to be sold in a value package.

Uber Eats’ menus featured more than 80% junk food. Shutterstock

In another study, we saw how online food delivery companies have used the pandemic as a way to promote junk foods on social media.

A recent digital analysis of Instagram accounts for nine online food delivery services in three different regions (Australia/New Zealand, North America, the United Kingdom, and the United States) revealed that nearly 70% of the food advertised on Instagram was junk food.

In 2020, 32% of posts will mention the pandemic. These posts encourage consumers to order food and stay at home to support local businesses.

It’s good to support local businesses and stay home during lockdowns, but it is alarming that more than 97% (of the food items) featured in COVID-related Instagram posts from Australia or the UK are junk foods.

Read more: Combo meal deals and price discounts on fast food encourage us to eat more junk. It’s time for policy action.

Can we promote healthier choices in the digital age?

Online food delivery makes it easy to get junk food and beverages. This is a major factor in the rising obesity rates. Australian data suggests that 16% are obese. Around 1 in 3 people aged over 15 years are obese.

World Health Organization acknowledged the increasing impact of online food environments on people’s dietary choices. It urges the food industry, government, policymakers, and researchers to take collective action for the public’s health.

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