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  • New analysis finds fast food meals far exceeding the recommended 600 kcal per meal.
  • The majority of all convenience and restaurant meals, including some supermarket meal deals, exceed the recommended number of calories for a meal. 
  • Takeaway pizzas have the most calories but supermarket sandwiches are the item we buy the most out and about.

One in three meals bought from fast food outlets contain 1300 kcal or more – more than double the calories recommended for a meal, new analysis from innovation charity Nesta reveals.

Nesta’s analysis is a first of its kind look at the meals people purchase from the out-of-home (OOH) sector across Great Britain. ‘Out of home’ means any prepared food or drink purchased for immediate consumption.

A fifth of all out-of-home meals bought – whether from fast food outlets, restaurants, cafes or retail sandwich counters – contain at least 1300 kcal. Three-fifths exceed the recommended level of 600 kcals per meal, including purchases from supermarkets such as meal deals that have an average calorie content of 730 kcal. Across the UK, two-thirds of all adults are living with excess weight. 

Lauren Bowes Byatt, Deputy Director of Nesta’s health team, said: "The takeaways, cafes, restaurants and bakeries in our neighbourhoods and high streets are hugely important parts of our communities – they are the places we go for a quick bite on the go or to spend time with friends and family. 

"But our analysis shows the majority of meals are more calorific than the recommended amount needed per meal to stay healthy. That includes some supermarket sandwich meal deals and, perhaps less surprisingly, takeaway meals like pizzas. With fast food the worst offender, many of the meals come in at over double the recommended amount of calories. Some meals contain more calories than our recommended allowance for a whole day.

"This could be making a real contribution to rising obesity rates, which have doubled since the early 1990s and is now one of the top causes of ill health in Britain. We need action if we are to turn the tide and improve the nation’s health."

Pizzas have the highest calorie content on average, with some containing almost all  of the recommended daily allowance. Sandwiches and wraps from retail shops, including supermarkets, are purchased the most often and so contribute the most calories to our diets in total – contributing 11% of all calories purchased in the sector, while pizzas contribute 7.5%. 

Read the text-based description of this image

Median calories per serving by volume of sales of food

A scatter plot shows the median calories per serving by the volume of food sales. Pizza is the highest-calorie food, with 1584.2 kcal per serving. Sandwiches and wraps have a lower-caloric value of 398.58 kcal, but contribute the most towards the volume of sales at 1222.33 million.

The out-of-home sector that the analysis looks at is frequently used by a large amount of the British population, with the numbers of people eating convenience, takeaways and restaurant meals also rising in recent years. Previous research shows the total out of home food and drink market in Great Britain has a value of £43.8 billion and grew 23.1% compared to 2020.

Approximately 60% of the population purchase OOH meals at least once a week and 11% - around 7 million - use it, on average, once a day, according to Nesta’s analysis. The research also shows that on average people living with excess weight purchase a greater proportion of calories from fast food outlets than people with a healthy weight.

The average calories purchased per trip is 1072 kcal while common meal purchases from fast food outlets have an average calorie content of 1121 kcal with nearly one-third of meals exceeding 1300 kcal. It is recommended by the NHS that adults have between 2,000 and 2,500 kcals per day to maintain a healthy weight. 

Nesta analysis shows that fast food outlets (both brand chains and independent takeaways) and food-to-go from supermarkets make up over half the total number of calories purchased out-of-the home.

Lauren Bowes Byatt, Deputy Director of Nesta’s health team, said: "To improve our health, we need to make it easier to enjoy healthier food from these businesses. Research and data on the out-of-home eating sector has been limited, making it difficult for policymakers to take action. Many current regulations designed to make food and drink healthier have focussed on retailers or manufacturers, and don’t apply to the food we purchase on the go at cafes and sandwich counters or order from takeaways.

"Our research helps to unearth the impact that eating out is having on the nation’s diets. We need to see new policies targeted at the out-of-home sector that make a meaningful difference to the excess calories we consume. Our work suggests this is possible without reducing the joy we take from food."


Notes for Editors

Nesta’s analysis uses the core dataset of Kantar’s OOH data for 1st April 2021 to 31st December 2021. This contains food and non-alcoholic drink sales data for a sample of 7,500 individuals aged 13+ in Great Britain. This particular analysis focused on a subset of these panellists, approximately 5,800 (including 5,200 who were 18 or over), who were recording purchasing on a continuous basis for the lifetime of the project analysis period. Nesta augmented nutritional data through the use of four sources of calorie information – these included two additional datasets from Kantar, product data provided by NIQ Brandbank 2023 and the University of Cambridge’s MenuTracker (Q1-4 of 2021), combined with a variety of data science methods.

  1. Public Health England’s ‘One You’ campaign encourages adults to consumer no more than 600 kcals per meal for lunch and dinner.
  2. Across the UK, the proportion of people living with excess weight is 67% of adults in Scotland, 64% of adults in England and 60% of adults in Wales (recent Nesta research has shown the Welsh data could be a significant underestimate).
  3. The Food Standards Agency report finding that only 4% of us never eat out excludes Scotland data.
  4. Research from November 2022, prepared for Food Standards Scotland by Kantar shows the total out of home food and drink market in Great Britain has a value of £43.8 billion and grew 23.1% compared to 2020.


For more information on the analysis or to speak to one of the experts involved, please contact Kieran Lowe, Media Lead, on 020 7438 2576 or [email protected]

Additional tables

Source: Nesta analysis of Kantar Worldpanel data (2021) 

Top 10 out-of-home items by mean calorie content
Food item Average calories (kcal)
Pizza 1662
Fish 901
Curry 810
Full breakfast 731
Burger 677
Pie 639
Cookie 591
Pastie 580
Chocolate bar 536
Chips, fries or wedges 487
Most popular items purchased from fast food outlets by nation
England Scotland Wales
Burger Burger Burger
Chips, fries or wedges Chips, fries or wedges Chips, fries or wedges
Fish Chinese takeaway meal Fish
Pizza Fish Fried chicken
Chicken nuggets Pizza Chicken nuggets
Sandwiches or wraps Chicken nuggets Pizza
Fried chicken Sandwiches or wraps Chinese noodles
Chinese takeaway meal Ice cream Chinese takeaway meal
Breakfast roll Fried chicken Sandwiches or wraps
Curry Curry Curry

Report and data

A summary of the findings, the full report, How eating out contributes to unhealthy diets, and a technical appendix are available at nesta.org.uk.

The data is taken from the Out-of-Home (OOH) subset of the Kantar Worldpanel fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) panel to capture purchases of food and non alcoholic beverages for Out of Home consumption in 2021. For reporting of individual level purchases uses a sample size of 5196 OOH users in Great Britain (4559 of whom are resident in England, 236 in Wales and 401 in Scotland). Market statistics use a sample of purchases from 5392 individuals (4732 individuals in England, 246 in Wales and 414 in Scotland).

About Nesta

We are Nesta, the UK's innovation agency for social good. We design, test and scale solutions to society's biggest problems. Our three missions are to give every child a fair start, help people live healthy lives, and create a sustainable future where the economy works for both people and the planet.

For over 20 years, we have worked to support, encourage and inspire innovation. We work in three roles: as an innovation partner working with frontline organisations to design and test new solutions, as a venture builder supporting new and early stage businesses, and as a system shaper creating the conditions for innovation.

Harnessing the rigour of science and the creativity of design, we work relentlessly to change millions of lives for the better. Find out more at nesta.org.uk