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Food Choices & Health

  • Feature

    Less Eating Out, Improved Diets, and More Family Meals in the Wake of the Great Recession

    Between 2005 and 2010, Americans experienced large changes in employment and income that affected their food expenditures and intake. Once demographic characteristics unrelated to the Great Recession are controlled for, food-away-from-home (FAFH) calories among working-age adults declined about 15 percent, while the number of meals and snacks from FAFH declined 12 percent.
  • Feature

    USDA’s Food Assistance Programs: Legacies of the War on Poverty

    USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs—many of which were conceived half a century ago—are still some of the Federal Government’s most important means of fighting poverty and improving the economic well-being of needy Americans.
  • Feature

    SNAP Participation and Diet Outcomes

    An analysis of the effect of SNAP participation on diet quality yielded mixed results, showing that participants had slightly lower overall diet quality than low-income nonparticipants but better nutritional outcomes for some dietary components.
  • Finding

    Americans Not Drinking Milk as Often as Their Parents Did

    Since 1970, per capita consumption of fluid milk in the U.S. has fallen from almost 1 cup (8 fl. oz.) to 0.6 cups per day. Contributing to the trend are differences in the eating and drinking habits of newer and older generations.
  • Feature

    Eating Better at School: Can New Policies Improve Children’s Food Choices?

    ERS research found that offering school lunches with a healthier mix of vegetables was associated with higher consumption of healthier vegetables, but also higher food costs. “Competitive foods” that many schools sell in addition to USDA school meals will also follow new nutrition standards beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
  • Feature

    Obesity and Other Health Concerns Lead Food Companies To Step Up Health and Nutrient Claims

    As food companies compete for customers, the health and nutritional features of their products are becoming an increasingly important component of their differentiation strategies. Government policies, new health information, and changing consumer preferences all shape the number and types of health- and nutrition-related claims that appear on food and beverage products.
  • Statistic

    ERS’s Food Loss Data Help Inform the Food Waste Discussion

    ERS's Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data show that at the retail and consumer levels, an estimated 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the U.S. in 2010 was not eaten due to cooking and moisture shrinkage; loss from mold, pests, or inadequate climate control; plate waste; and other causes.
  • Feature

    Disability Is an Important Risk Factor for Food Insecurity

    Recent ERS research found that one-third of U.S. households with a working-age adult who was unable to work due to a disability were food insecure in 2009-10. Disability has emerged as one of the strongest known factors that affect a household’s food security.
  • Feature

    Different Measures of Food Access Inform Different Solutions

    ERS recently updated several national measures of food access, providing estimates of the number of individuals and geographic areas with limited access to healthful and affordable food. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of low-income individuals living more than 1 mile from a supermarket increased, but more individuals had access to vehicles in 2010.
  • Finding

    Substitute and Complementary Foods Are Important When Assessing Impacts of Price Policies on Dietary Quality

    With many Americans consuming too much fat and added sugars and not enough fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, public health advocates have called for taxes or subsidies on particular foods as a way to improve Americans’ diets. To capture the total impact of hypothetical price policies on dietary quality requires a model that includes consumer responsiveness to complementary and substitute foods.
  • Statistic

    New ERS Data Product Links Food Availability and Food Intake Data

    ERS’s recently updated Commodity Consumption by Population Characteristics data product links national estimates of food supplies, or food available for consumption, with information from consumer food intake surveys.
  • Feature

    Americans’ Food Choices at Home and Away: How Do They Compare With Recommendations?

    Grocery store purchase data reveal that Americans underspend on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and overspend on refined grains, fats, and sugars/sweets, compared with USDA's dietary recommendations, a pattern that showed little change from 1998 to 2006. Food choices when eating out are even more of a nutritional concern.
  • Finding

    Dietary Guidelines Have Encouraged Some Americans To Purchase More Whole-Grain Bread

    There is little evidence that overall diet quality in the U.S. has improved in response to updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued every 5 years. However, a recent study by ERS finds that, for whole grains, the 2005 Guidelines were able to nudge consumption patterns in the direction desired by the public health community—at least for some consumers.
  • Finding

    Agricultural Policies Have Little Effect on U.S. Calorie Consumption

    Many observers speculate that agricultural policies contribute to increased U.S. obesity rates by making certain commodities more abundant and therefore cheaper. However, a recent study finds that the effects of farm subsidies, when combined with the effects of other agricultural policies that restrict supply such as acreage set-asides or import barriers, have little impact on average calorie consumption.
  • Feature

    Gobbling Up Snacks: Cause or Potential Cure for Childhood Obesity?

    Children today are consuming about 200 more calories a day from snacks than they did in the 1970s. Replacing calorie-dense snack foods with fruits and vegetables can be one step in addressing childhood obesity and does not have to compromise a family’s food budget.
  • Finding

    Trans Fats Are Less Common in New Food Products

    The Federal Government has taken two policy approaches to help Americans reduce trans fats in their diets: publicizing the health risks and requiring food manufacturers to label the trans fat content of foods. ERS found that food manufacturers responded to the labeling requirements, nutritional advice from health officials, and national media coverage by reducing the trans fats in their products.
  • Finding

    Healthy Foods Not Necessarily More Expensive Than Less Healthy Foods

    Healthy foods are perceived to be more expensive than less healthy foods, a belief perhaps fueled by studies showing that healthy foods are more expensive per calorie. ERS measured the prices of over 4,000 foods using three price metrics and found that prices for each food category varied depending on the metric used.
  • Finding

    U.S. Per Capita Availability of Chicken Surpasses That of Beef

    According to ERS’s food availability data, 58 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat in 2010, and for the first time, chicken surpassed beef as the most consumed meat in the U.S. Chicken consumption began its upward climb in the 1940s and has doubled since 1970.
  • Feature

    What Role Do Food and Beverage Prices Have on Diet and Health Outcomes?

    Food preferences, nutrition knowledge, and access to stores and restaurants all share a role with food prices in consumers’ food purchasing decisions and related health outcomes. Price changes have limited effects on food choices and health outcomes, but the effects may be larger when paired with information and other reinforcing policies and programs.
  • Finding

    What Role Do Food and Beverage Prices Have in Childhood Obesity?

    Price increases for some high-calorie foods and beverages were found to have small but statistically significant effects on children's BMI, and in the direction expected. Comparing the effects with the expected average growth in children's BMI over a year reveals a possibly large effect over time.
  • Finding

    Investigating the Time Use Patterns of Obese Americans

    Data on time spent by Americans age 20 and older on 24 major activities reveal that the biggest differences between normal-weight people and obese people were in time spent watching television, participating in sports and exercise, and engaging in paid work.
  • Finding

    Consumers Appear Indifferent to Country-of-Origin Labeling for Shrimp

    ERS researchers explored whether U.S. consumers adjusted their purchases of shrimp in response to the 2005 country-of origin labeling requirements for seafood. Findings show that consumers were not responsive to the new country-of-origin labels.
  • Statistic

    Food and Nutrient Intake Data: Taking a Look at the Nutritional Quality of Foods Eaten at Home and Away From Home

    Foods prepared in restaurants, school cafeterias, and other away-from-home eating places accounted for 42 percent of American households food budgets and 32 percent of calorie intake during 2005-08. How the nutritional quality of these foods differs from that of foods eaten at home is a critical factor affecting the quality of Americans diets.
  • Finding

    Americans More Realistic About Their Diet Quality

    Research has suggested that Americans view their diets too optimistically, underestimating the amount of calories in their diets, for example, or overestimating the nutritional value. Recent work by ERS suggests that, in recent years, such "optimistic bias" may be on the wane.
  • Finding

    New Loss Estimates Suggest Higher Vegetable and Protein Consumption

    ERS contracted with an independent, nonprofit research organization to develop new consumer-level loss estimates to update those ERS has used since the mid-1990s. If the new food loss estimates are adopted, changes to ERS’s current Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data would vary for individual foods.
  • Feature

    Will Calorie Labeling in Restaurants Make a Difference?

    A 2010 Federal law will require U.S. chain restaurants to display calorie information on their menus and menu boards. Will consumers use this information to make healthier food choices?
  • Finding

    Americans Can Satisfy Dietary Guidelines for Vegetables and Fruit for Under $2.50 Per Day

    In 2008, Americans on a 2,000-calorie diet could purchase the Dietary Guidelines-recommended quantity and variety of both fruit and vegetables for between $2.00 and $2.50 per day, or roughly 50 cents per edible cup equivalent.
  • Finding

    Choosing Healthy Foods Is More Challenging for Teens

    Caloric increases from food away from home and foods from school for 13-18 year olds likely reflect an increased availability of many types of foods in middle and high schools, including a la carte side dishes and desserts.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    Selected statistics on agriculture and trade, diet and health, natural resources, and rural America
  • Statistic

    Compare Your Area's Food Environment With the Rest of the Country

    With over 90 food environment indicators, the ERS Food Environment Atlas provides a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.
  • Finding

    Price-Reducing Coupons Have a Dual Effect on Fruit and Vegetable Purchases

    A recent ERS study examined the use of price-reducing coupons to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption. The study found that coupon effectiveness depends on the amount of the discount and the share of households that redeem the coupons.
  • Feature

    Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages To Curb Obesity

    ERS researchers found that a 20-percent tax on caloric sweetened beverages could reduce consumption, calorie intake, and body weight even after accounting for increased consumption of alternative beverages.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    Research area charts from the September 2012 issue of Amber Waves
  • Finding

    Eating Out Increases Daily Calorie Intake

    Among all meals eaten outide the home, lunch has the largest impact on the average adult, adding 158 calories to daily intake, compared with lunch prepared at home. Eating dinner out increases intake by 144 calories. Each away-from-home snack adds just over 100 calories to daily intake. Breakfast away from home adds 74 calories.
  • Statistic

    Tracking Changes in Dietary Awareness and Food Choices

    A number of constituencies—government nutrition and health agencies, food manufacturers, public health advocates, and food marketing firms—depend on reliable data to track changes in the food habits, behavior, and choices of U.S. consumers. ERS has partnered with the National Center for Health Statistics to gather such data.
  • Feature

    Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food Is Limited in “Food Deserts”

    A small percentage of U.S. households live in “food deserts,” where access to a supermarket or large grocery store is a problem. Low-income residents of these neighborhoods and those who lack transportation tend to rely more on smaller neighborhood stores that may not carry healthy foods or offer them only at higher prices, which increases the risks of poor diets or food insecurity.
  • Finding

    Americans Are More Realistic About the Quality of Their Diets

    Presumably, Americans are more realistic today about their diet quality because they have greater knowledge of what constitutes a healthy diet. In 2005-06, 79 percent of U.S. adults had heard of the Food Guide Pyramid, up from 33 percent in 1994, and 51 percent knew about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, up from 30 percent in 1994.
  • Statistic

    Indicators- Amber Waves - June 2009

    Selected statistics on agriculture and trade, diet and health, natural resources, and rural America from June 2009.
  • Finding

    Working Parents Outsource Children’s Meals

    Virtually all households take the dollar cost of food into account when making food choices. But for some households, the time involved in planning, shopping for, and preparing a meal is also an important consideration. Findings from the Eating & Health Module of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) indicate that many working parents free up time by "outsourcing" their children's meals--that is, they purchase prepared meals for their children at school or day care.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    This page contains research area charts from the March 2009 issue of Amber Waves.
  • Feature

    When Nudging in the Lunch Line Might Be a Good Thing

    With over 30 million children served each school day, USDA-sponsored school meals provide an important opportunity to improve diet and health. Schools can exert considerable control over the food choices they offer and the manner in which they are presented. Understanding how simple rules of thumb and certain cues, like presentation and visual appeal, can influence our on-the-spot decisions can reveal potential options to increase the link between intentions and behaviors. Choice architecture relies heavily on subtle cues, or “nudges,” to encourage people to follow through on their intentions. Behavioral economic theory suggests several possibilities to structure school cafeteria environments in a noncoercive manner to encourage healthy choices.
  • Statistic

    Data Feature

    Health professionals, farmers, food companies, and policymakers want to know what Americans are eating, both the type of foods and how much. But charting the eating habits of 300 million people is not easy. Researchers rely on a number of surveys and data sources, each with strengths and weaknesses.
  • Finding

    Stabilizing Federal Support for Emergency Food Providers

    Through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), USDA supplies a variety of commodities and funds to States, who in turn provide them to food banks and other emergency food providers. USDA commodities account for nearly 14 percent of food distributed by emergency food providers. The 2008 Farm Act provides an immediate funding boost of $50 million and inflation-adjusted increases in funding through 2012.
  • Feature

    Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?

    Low-income households that receive maximum food assistance benefits usually can afford a healthy diet; others may have more difficulty.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    Research area charts from the September 2008 issue of Amber Waves.
  • Finding

    Lower Income Households Spend Additional Income on Foods Other Than Fruit and Vegetables

    An analysis of the 2003 Consumer Expenditure Survey found that households with incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty line will spend additional income on needs other than fruit and vegetables. Among the foods examined, these households were more likely to spend a small increase in income on beef and frozen prepared foods.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    Research area charts from the June 2008 issue of Amber Waves.
  • Statistic

    Research Areas

    Research area charts from the February 2008 issue of Amber Waves.
  • Finding

    High-Fructose Corn Syrup Usage May Be Leveling Off

    Since peaking in 1999 at 63.7 pounds per person, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) availability has dropped to 59 pounds per person in 2005. Decreasing use of HFCS is partly due to bottled water and diet soft drinks taking sales from HFCS-sweetened soft drinks. Food manufacturers are using a combination of sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and bulking agents in more foods, also contributing to decreased use of HFCS.
  • Feature

    Converging Patterns in Global Food Consumption and Food Delivery Systems

    U.S. and international trends in food spending, food consumption, and food delivery systems. Across countries and income levels worldwide, consumers are choosing to spend their additional income on some combination of increased quality, convenience, and variety of foods. Food delivery and consumption patterns in middle-income countries are converging to countries with higher income levels. Income growth has been a primary force behind converging global consumption patterns.
  • Finding

    Food Spending Depends on Age and Income

    By 2030, about 24 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older. An aging population will affect how much and what types of food are purchased.
  • Statistic

    Indicators, Research Areas

    Research area charts from the September 2007 issue of Amber Waves.