22 July 2024

Our 24/7 eating conundrum

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By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lim Ghee Seong, Capt. (R) Dr. Hayati Ishak, Dr. Arilatha Arimuthu

In the era of modern conveniences, the availability of 24-hour food delivery, albeit being convenient has undeniably transformed the way we approach and choose our meals. While the accessibility and immediacy of doorstep dining offer unparalleled convenience and limitless choices giving us an epicurean rush, the toll on our health, both in terms of general well- being and dental health, is becoming increasingly evident. The lure of on demand gastronomy at a click of a button, has reshaped our eating habits, disrupted the delicate balance of nutritional intake and raised numerous health concerns in our population.

The 24-hour food delivery industry has seen a remarkable surge, as evident by compelling statistics. A recent survey by World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the global food delivery market has experienced an annual growth rate exceeding 10% over the past five years and especially after the Covid-19 pandemic forced both consumers and vendors to rethink the dining ecosystem. Furthermore, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the United States reveals a significant 15% increase in the frequency of food delivery orders between 2016 and 2021.

These figures underscore the widespread adoption of food delivery services, driven by their convenience and time saving benefits. However, as this trend continues to shape consumer behaviour, it is crucial to consider its broader societal impact, particularly concerning health. The growing reliance on food delivery as well as one’s food environment may influence individuals’ dietary choices and overall well- being. Navigating this evolving landscape requires comprehensive understanding of the dynamics within the food delivery market to address potential health concerns and ensure the community’s well- being.

Nevertheless, the convenience offered by 24-hour food delivery comes with a substantial cost to our general health. The ubiquitous availability of fast food and unhealthy meal options through these platforms, offering irresistible deals and mouthwatering choices, has contributed to a global surge in obesity rates. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the prevalence of obesity worldwide has nearly tripled since 1975, with over 1.9 billion adults categorized as overweight. The ease with which calorically dense and nutritionally deficient meals can be delivered to our doorsteps plays a pivotal role in this concerning trend. It is imperative to address these health implications and foster a balanced approach to ensure the well- being of individuals and communities in the face of this evolving culinary culture.

On the other hand, when this culture is scrutinized from a dental point of view, the widespread availability of fast food and the convenience of 24-hour food delivery services have significant implications. The constant exposure to sugary and acidic foods, often present in delivered meals, greatly increase the risk of dental issues like cavities and erosions. The American Dental Association (ADA) has observed a noticeable rise in tooth decay and cavities, leading to a higher demand for dental restorations and treatments. The easy access to sugary snacks and drinks delivered at any time poses an ongoing threat to the lasting oral health of individuals by continuously attacking dental enamel.

Additionally, the health consequences are worsened by nutritional imbalance resulting from consumption of processed and fast foods. The British Dental Journal (BDJ) emphasizes the link between poor nutrition and weakened immune response, making individuals more susceptible to numerous oral infections and gum diseases. Choosing convenient but nutritionally deficient meals over those rich in essentials vitamins and minerals not only puts dental health at risk but also has a negative impact on overall well- being. The combined effects of dietary choices and the availability of these options underline the urgent need to encourage healthier eating habits to protect both oral and overall general health.

Moreover, the psychological implications of our dependence on 24-hour food delivery cannot be ignored. The immediacy of gratification, while satisfying in the short term, fosters a culture of impulsive indulgence that often eclipses mindful eating. Studies published in the Journal of Eating Behaviors reveal an alarming increase in impulsive eating behaviours associated with the accessibility of around- the- clock food delivery. This impulsive pattern not only contributes to overindulgence but also hampers our ability to make informed, health- conscious dietary choices.

As we slowly accepting this culinary convenience landscape that is fast becoming our food culture, it is important to strike a balance between modernity and health. Acknowledging the statistics that underscore the impact of 24-hour food delivery on our well- being serves as a catalyst for change. Initiatives promoting nutritional education, coupled with policies encouraging healthier menu options, can mitigate the adverse effects of this food culture. It is incumbent upon individuals, healthcare professionals and policymakers alike to collaboratively address this burgeoning health crisis and reclaim a healthier, more mindful approach to nourishment in this 24/7 digital era.


Dr. Lim is a Dental Lecturer at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya; Dr. Hayati is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre of Comprehensive Care Studies, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM);and Dr. Arilatha is a Restorative Dentistry Specialist with the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.