BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 11:11 GMT
Busy Britons 'eating on the move'
Britons have the longest commuting times in Europe
Britons' spending on "on-the-move" food is four times that of the Spanish and nearly twice that of the Italians, a study by a research group says.

UK residents spend an average 229 a year on food consumed in transit, the highest in Europe, Datamonitor says.

In contrast, Spanish people spend only 56 a year, while Italians spend 128 a year on average.

The report's author says the difference is due to the greater amount of time Britons spend at work and commuting.

In the UK people spend on average 48 minutes a day travelling to and from work.

The Spanish and Italians spend the least in Europe on on-the-move-food and also the least amount of time commuting.

Attitudes towards food are also important, the study claims.

"There are a lot of people in the UK who view most of their meals as refuelling," says Lawrence Gould, the report's author.

But it is not all bad, he adds.

Commuting times
UK: 48 minutes a day
Germany: 47 minutes a day
Netherlands: 46 minutes a day
Sweden: 41 minutes a day
France: 37 minutes a day
Spain: 34 minutes a day
Italy: 24 minutes a day
Average: 40 minutes a day

Source: Datamonitor

"One thing emerging is a greater demand for higher quality food," even if it is food-on-the-go says Mr Gould.

Traditional fast food such as burgers and chips are now competing with low-fat alternatives.

While the food may have been eaten in transit, people are increasingly being offered healthy fare: from sushi to organic salads.

Your comments:

Every time I come back to England I am surprised (and often disgusted) by the number of people eating meals (especially fast food) on trains. I have also noticed (you can smell them everywhere) that there are fast food outlets in nearly all main line railway stations in England - whereas in France there are not. I appreciate the relative discretion of French people towards eating in public places. It is very disagreeable to sit next to someone who is eating from a packet of greasy chips or other smelly food.
Beverly Barbey, Beauvais, France

We have the "lunch is for wimps" culture
Selina, Southampton

As an expat I do really miss my doner kebabs
Dave, Springfield USA

It's hard to compare our eating habits with those of such different cultures and economies. Perhaps 'fast' food in Spain is a bit cheaper- than here? And are tapas bars, meatball vendors included in this definition of fast eating? Also, Italy, Spain and so on have a culture of long lunch breaks/siestas which allow people to get home and have a proper meal - we have the "lunch is for wimps" culture. I used to have breakfast, lunch and dinner on the run when I commuted to London every day. Now I work closer to home and have been amazed at how infrequently a shop-bought sarnie appeals.
Selina, Southampton

When using UK trains, I always go hungry rather than eat. The food always has that soggy-yet-stale bland taste to it, and you have to pay the premium of eating it on a train. I'd sooner eat the paper from my note pad, at least as a student I can afford that.
Zead Said, Sheffield

As an expat I am amazed by the low standard and lack of choice of sandwiches and other fast foods in Switzerland. There is still the expectation here that many people will go home for lunch, although few actually do. The UK market is much better developed and so people spend more.
John, Geneva, Switzerland

The most irritating thing about UK trains is the smell of fast food. It really is unpleasant and I have never been to another country where this happens.
John, Cambridge, UK

It's about laziness and not giving a stuff what rubbish you are pumping into the veins of your children. Irresponsible parents may hide behind the 'pressures of modern life' but the truth is that they'd rather sit in front of the TV watching Eastenders than spend 30 minutes in the kitchen preparing a healthy meal.
Ian Johnston, London, England

I do have fond memories of a bagel shop in Waterloo station
Ilya Suharenko, Latvia

Eating fast food on a train or a bus is disgusting and anti-social. I do not want my nostrils bombarded by the stink of burgers or to sit among fried chicken bones that have been left behind. It is a symptom of the Me Me Me/instant gratification/don't care culture that's ruining this country. The amount of cheap and nasty fast food joints in any high street and the rubbish that comes with it, is mind-boggling. Our more civilised European neighbours must laugh at how slobbish we've become.
John G, London, UK

English people look at eating merely as refuelling, like filling up the car with petrol. In both Spain & Italy (and maybe other countries in Europe) meal times are looked on as a social gathering a time to relax & reflect. When I first started work in the early 80s the whole office went to the canteen at lunchtimes and all sat round a table eating a proper meal. Now we just grab a sandwich when we can and eat individually at our desks. The smokers then go outside for a quick ciggy.
Tim, UK

I've never seen anyone except tourists eating in public in Italy - it is considered bad manners and people would stare at you if you did. I just returned from London with my Italian girlfriend after visiting my family and the eating habits of Londoners especially on public transport shocked my girlfriend and me too.
Neale, Bologna

Living in Barcelona I've noticed that the most common form of fast food is a baguette on the move, or a very quick visit to a tapas bar. Most workers seem to have a long lunch over a glass wine, which to me is far more preferable than a greasy burger in the office. It's merely a case of culture differences, quite possibly caused by the warmer climate in southern Europe - and I know which one I prefer.
Fergus, Barcelona, Spain

With the delays and long journey times on trains in the UK, is it any surprise that people have no other option but to grab a nasty take-away at the station? There are really no other alternatives as the fast food giants have taken over from the smaller food vendors.
Alison, Leeds, UK

Brits may spend a lot of money on the latest kitchens, which are advertised everywhere, but they still buy pre-cooked food at the supermarket counter.
Maria, London, UK

I personally don't like most of fast foods but we do have to differentiate. I do have fond memories of a bagel shop in Waterloo station or Marks & Spencer sandwiches from the time I was a student in London
Ilya Suharenko, Latvia

People complain about the smell of eating in public areas but where and when exactly are we supposed to eat? Most places of work that I've been in have no canteen and the local sandwich bar/fast-food joints are "Walk In Walk Out" places with nowhere to sit. There's nowhere to eat at lunchtime. Plus we're often expected to work late. When I'm heading home in the dark and cold my stomach is positively growling. No wonder we eat on the go.
Faye, Cardiff, UK

When I first moved to the UK six years ago I was amazed at how acceptable junk food and semi-junk food on the go was. Not only for lunch but shock horror for dinner as well. I think going back to the old fashioned sit down dinner would be a bonus for everyone's mental, social and physical health. Also, seeing people eating greasy kebabs or chips in the streets is quite disturbing - grease meets street grime! Sit back and relax folks, you only live once.
Mary, London, UK (ex-Spain)

I think part of the huge difference in spending is the high cost of fast food in the UK compared to the continent.
Richard, Douglas, Isle of Man

My impression is that most comments here are based around experiences in London? London Zeitgeist is predominantly about making money. Londoners value financial wealth above personal health. It's not a question of laziness but of lifestyle choice. No business can survive unless it serves customers what they want. You can't blame the proliferation of low quality, "on the go" "fast food" on anything other than the choices Londoners have made. I'm just happy to see that many of us are finally acknowledging health is a pre-requisite of wealth. See you in the gym!
EuGin Song, London

People should be free to eat when and where they like. If people would rather go home and cook a full meal every time they felt hungry, then they should go and do it. But don't complain when people eat in public. Are we supposed to feel ashamed?!
Andrew Holland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

We class ourselves as a developed country, and yet if one compares the offerings available on the move here with other countries, particularly Asia, there is a noticeable lack of variety, freshness and the cost is disproportionately high. Perhaps if more entrepreneurs were willing to try their hand at food production, we would be able to avoid the unhealthy and distasteful food produced in franchised fast-food outlets.
Edward Holroyd Pearce, Cambridge, UK

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific