ERS tracks the supply of food available for consumption in the
United States and examines consumer food preferences by age,
income, region, race, whether people eat at home or away, and other
characteristics. Descriptive statistics of commodity consumption
help to inform growers about who consumes their commodities, how
and where their commodities are used, and how much is consumed. The
information enables the food and agriculture industry to improve
its promotion strategies, and USDA used it to complete a regulatory
analysis for nutrition labeling on beef.
Descriptive studies of food consumption
ERS has conducted a series of analyses describing food
consumption by age, income, region, race, and eating location. For
a complete list of publications related to this topic, see Eating
Patterns: Who Eats What, Where, and How Much.
Factors affecting food commodity consumption
To better understand the factors affecting food consumption as
well as to predict consumption, ERS conducted regression analyses.
This effort was integral to a comprehensive study of U.S. food and
commodity consumption (see Food and Agricultural Commodity Consumption in the
United States: Looking Ahead to 2020).
ERS has published separate analyses of consumption of potato
products, pork products, and grain products in journals. Contact Biing-Hwan Lin
Implications for U.S. agriculture
A 2006 ERS report provides one view of the
potential implications for U.S. agriculture if Americans fully
changed their current consumption patterns to meet select
recommendations in the 2005 Guidelines. To meet the fruit,
vegetable, and whole-grain recommendations, ERS estimates that
domestic crop acreage would need to increase by 7.4 million
harvested acres, or 1.7percent of total U.S. cropland in 2002.
Additionally, an estimated 111 billion more pounds of milk and milk
products would be needed each year for Americans to meet the dairy
consumption recommendations. Some of this change would likely
require an increase in dairy cows, which would raise demand for
feed grains and, possibly, acreage devoted to dairy production.
Another study by ERS researchers examined how aggregate food
consumption and production levels would change if Americans were to
meet public health objectives set forth in the Surgeon General's
People 2010" compared to USDA baseline projections. To meet two
objectives-increase the percentage of the population with a healthy
weight and decrease the percentage of the population who are
obese-without changing levels of physical activity would require a
6-percent reduction in aggregate food consumption. This, in turn,
would lead to a drop in production of agricultural commodities and
reduce net returns to producers by $3.5 billion. However, if
population weight objectives are met by also increasing physical
activity, these same goals could be achieved at much less cost
($1.3 billion). Changes in agricultural activities would vary
across regions, with the largest potential changes in producer net
returns in the Corn Belt and the Lake States. (See: Johansson,
Mancino, and Joe Cooper, "The Big Picture: Production Impacts
of Reduced Obesity," Agribusiness, 22(5):1-13, 2006.)
Interactions among different agricultural commodity markets may
moderate the size of any adjustments estimated by ERS. Consumers
could substitute some products for others, depending on prices.
Farmers, who base planting decisions on expected prices, could
alternate among crops, with limitations, on the same piece of land.
Producers and processors could alter the supply of final foods,
depending on relative prices, consumer demand, and changing
Because of the size and complexity of the U.S. food system, an
almost infinite combination of foods, production methods, end uses,
and trade adjustments could work together to move diets toward the
Federal dietary recommendations. Food consumption is just one of
several components of demand for agricultural products, along with
animal feed, exports, and nonfood or industrial uses. Shifts in
food demand due to dietary change would likely result in offsetting
shifts in production, trade, and nonfood uses, which would tend to
moderate the effects on food prices and farm income in the long
U.S. per capita food availability: Dairy by subgroup
(available weight in lbs.)
||Fluid milk and related
1Computed from unrounded data.
Source: USDA/Economic Research Service. Data last
updated Feb. 1, 2011.
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