U.S. Food Consumption Up 16 Percent Since 1970

America’s growing girth has focused attention on what—and how much—we as a Nation have been eating. The ERS food consumption (per capita) data series, one of the few series tracking long-term consumption, suggests that Americans are eating more food every year. The total amount of food available for each person to eat increased 16 percent from 1,675 pounds in 1970 to 1,950 pounds in 2003. This increase was not isolated to a few food groups. Fruits and vegetables also showed an increase.

The increase in food available for consumption resulted in a corresponding jump in calories, from 2,234 calories per person per day in 1970 to 2,757 calories in 2003 (after adjusting for plate waste, spoilage, and other food losses). Per capita consumption of fats and oils, grains, vegetables, and sugars/sweeteners led the way. Between 1970 and 2003, total per capita consumption of added fats and oils rose by 63 percent, grain consumption by 43 percent, vegetable consumption by 24 percent, and sugar and sweetener consumption by 19 percent. Annual corn sweetener consumption increased to 79 pounds in 2003, up 400 percent from 1970. This steep rise in corn sweetener consumption is largely due to high-fructose corn syrup, a low-cost substitute for sugar in beverages.

Even with the mid-1990s push to cut dietary fat, added fats and oils accounted for an extra 216 calories per person per day—or 42 percent of the 523-calorie increase between 1970 and 2003. Grains and sugars contributed 188 and 76 added calories. Only in dairy products did daily calories decline (11 calories), partly due to the switch from whole to low-fat milk.

Average daily calorie intake grew by 523 calories (per capita consumption)
Commodity group 1970 (pounds) 2003 (pounds) Increase in pounds, 1970-2003 (percent) Increase in daily calories, 1970-2003 (number)
Fats and oils 53 86 63 216
Grains 136 194 43 188
Sugar and sweeteners 119 142 19 76
Meat, eggs, and nuts 226 242 7 24
Vegetables 337 418 24 16
Fruits 242 275 12 14
Dairy 564 594 5 -11
Total 1,675 1,950 16 523
The ERS per capita data represent the amount of food and calories available for consumption after adjusting for spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in the home or marketing system.