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Nutritional quality of food store purchases increases with nutrition information use

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s 2012-13 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to explore whether consumers who say they are familiar with or use nutrition information (nutrition information users) actually make healthier food choices. Researchers used answers from FoodAPS’s primary respondents to nine questions to classify households into low, medium, and high users of nutrition information. A positive relationship was found between nutrition information use and the nutritional quality of purchases from grocery and other food stores (food at home). However, for the average FoodAPS respondent, when the primary respondent is a high user of nutrition information, the nutritional quality of food purchased from fast-food places, full-service restaurants, and other food-away-from-home sources did not vary significantly from that of food purchased from these same food sources when the primary respondent is a low user of nutrition information. This finding is consistent with a possible “indulgence effect” wherein consumers—when eating out—often indulge themselves by selecting less healthy treats than they might when cooking meals at home. This chart appears in "Use of Nutrition Information and the Food Healthfulness Gap" in the May 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Households that buy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers tend to possess health-oriented attitudes and behaviors

Monday, March 5, 2018

A recent ERS study analyzed spending on fruits and vegetables by the 4,826 households that participated in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Among these households, 170 bought some of their fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, or other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets during their week of participation in the survey. Another 3,388 households bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores. The researchers found that purchasing fruits and vegetables at a DTC outlet was positively associated with several healthy practices. For example, people buying fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were more likely to have a vegetable garden (45 versus 25 percent of non-DTC shoppers), to be aware of USDA’s MyPlate campaign to promote Federal dietary guidance, and to search the internet for information on healthy eating. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were also more likely to rate the healthfulness of their diets as excellent or very good. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, January 2018.

Americans purchase almost two-thirds of their calories from large grocery stores

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans acquire food from many sources—supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and more. But in practice, large grocery stores dominate. A recent ERS analysis of household-level data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) found that three-quarters of U.S. households’ calories came from retail stores, with supermarkets, supercenters, and other large grocers providing 65 percent of calories by themselves. Small and specialty food stores like bakeries and farmers’ markets supplied 3 percent of calories and 6.5 percent came from convenience stores, dollar stores, and other stores. Restaurants and other eating places provided 17 percent of household calories. ERS researchers used the detailed FoodAPS data to calculate the nutrient value of food acquisitions and found that the overall nutritional quality of foods purchased at large grocery stores was higher than that of foods purchased at other retail outlets or restaurant and fast-food establishments. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, released on February 21, 2018.

Households that buy directly from farmers spend more money on fruits and vegetables

Thursday, January 25, 2018

ERS researchers recently used USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data to investigate the relationship between spending for fruits and vegetables and shopping at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets. The researchers looked at two groups of households—those that bought fresh and processed fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores and those that purchased these foods at both DTC outlets and stores. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers spent an average of $12.15 per week at DTC outlets on these foods. They spent another $16.21 on fruits and vegetables at food stores, about as much as households that bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at stores. The study measured the impact that buying directly from farmers has on a household’s overall fruit and vegetable expenditures and found evidence of a positive impact, even after controlling for other demand determinants like income, education, and a household’s attitudes toward food and nutrition. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, released on January 24, 2018.

What time of day do Americans engage in primary and secondary eating?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Errata: On May 12, 2017, three numbers in the text of this Chart of Note were revised to correct for erroneous double counting during the indicated 3-hour time period. The corrected percentages are 59 percent reported primary eating and drinking between 5:00 and 7:59 pm, 50 percent between 11:00 am and 1:59 pm, and 34 percent between 7:00 and 9:59 am in 2015.


Data from the Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey provide a snapshot of when Americans eat and drink as their main activity (primary eating and drinking), or when they eat while doing something else (secondary eating). Over an average day in 2015, 95 percent of people age 15 and older engaged in primary eating and drinking at least once, with an average of 2.1 times. Americans have two peak times for primary eating and drinking—noon to 12:59 pm and 6:00 to 6:59 pm. More Americans make time for dinner than for lunch as a primary activity; 59 percent reported primary eating and drinking between 5:00 and 7:59 pm and 50 percent between 11:00 am and 1:59 pm. A third (34 percent) reported eating breakfast as a primary activity between 7:00 and 9:59 am in 2015. Those breakfast skippers—and others—may be grazing throughout the day, as 54 percent ate as a secondary activity at least once during a typical day in 2015, with an average of 1.4 times. From 9 am to 9 pm, at least 5 percent of Americans engaged in secondary eating each hour. The top three activities that accompanied secondary eating were watching television and movies, paid work, and socializing with others. A version of this chart appears in ERS’s Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product.

Households shopping at supermarkets, supercenters, and warehouse club stores have highest healthy basket scores

Monday, May 8, 2017

Over the past two decades, some store formats—including supercenters, dollar stores, and warehouse club stores—have increased their share of Americans’ spending on “at-home food”—food and beverages purchased from retail stores. Shifts between store formats could have implications for shopping patterns. A recent ERS study computed “healthy basket” scores for monthly at-home food and beverage purchases. The higher the score, the closer a household’s purchases aligned with healthy-diet expenditure shares. Baskets were categorized by the format accounting for the household’s largest share of food expenditures. Scores were highest for households predominantly shopping at warehouse club stores (8.3), supermarkets (8.2), and supercenters (8.0). Household food baskets dominated by purchases from drug stores, convenience stores, and dollar stores had the least healthful purchases. Over 2008-12, an average of 67 percent of households in the data predominantly shopped at supermarkets, 17 percent at supercenters, and 6 percent at warehouse club stores. The other 10 percent shopped predominately at drug, dollar, convenience, and other store formats. This chart appears in "Households Purchase More Produce and Low-Fat Dairy at Supermarkets, Supercenters, and Warehouse Club Stores" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, May 2017.

Across income groups, fast food largest source of food-away-from-home calories

Friday, October 21, 2016

Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that meals and snacks from fast food places accounted for more of Americans’ away-from-home calories than food from full-service restaurants, school cafeterias, or other away-from-home eating places. In 1977-78, eating places with no wait staff (fast food) provided 5.7 percent of daily calories for those age 2 and older, while food prepared by restaurants with wait staff provided 3.2 percent. By 2011-12, fast food’s share of calories had increased to 15.8 percent, while restaurant foods provided 8.9 percent of daily calories. Fast food’s ranking as the largest contributor to away-from-home calories held true for both higher income individuals (household income above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line) and individuals with incomes below that amount. In all of these surveys, higher income consumers obtained a larger share of their calories from foods prepared by restaurants (11.2 percent in 2011-12) than did lower income consumers (5.8 percent in 2011-12). This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Fresh and frozen shellfish lead the growth in seafood availability

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The supply of seafood available for consumption in the United States is up from 11.7 pounds per person in 1970—but down from a peak of 16.5 pounds in 2006—according to ERS food availability data. In 1970, fresh and frozen shellfish accounted for 21 percent of seafood availability. In 2014, by comparison, fresh and frozen shellfish (mostly shrimp) accounted for 34 percent of the 14.5 pounds per capita of seafood available for consumption. New efficiencies in shrimp aquaculture beginning in the early 1980s, which sharply increased availability and reduced prices, made shrimp a popular menu item at fast casual dining places across the United States. A 35-percent decline in canned tuna availability since 2000 was largely offset by a surge in fresh and frozen fish availability from low-cost imports of farm-raised salmon and tilapia and the increased use of wild-caught Alaska pollock in frozen fish sticks, imitation crab meat, and fast-food sandwiches. This chart appears in “Americans’ Seafood Consumption Below Recommendations” in the October 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Non-Hispanic Blacks were the only racial/ethnic group to increase whole fruit and total fruit consumption between 1994-98 and 2007-08

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A recent linking of ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with food intake surveys from 1994-2008 revealed that Non-Hispanic Blacks were the only group of the racial/ethnic groups examined that had higher whole fruit and total fruit consumption in 2007-08 compared with 1994-98. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of a person’s recommended fruit consumption be whole fruit. Non-Hispanic Blacks increased their whole fruit consumption to 71.4 pounds per person in 2007-08—an amount still below that of Hispanics and the "other" racial/ethnic group. All four racial/ethnic groups consumed smaller quantities of orange juice and larger quantities of apple juice in 2007-08. Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics had the largest increases in apple juice consumption. This chart appears in“A Closer Look at Declining Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Using Linked Data Sources” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Declining potato consumption driving Americans' falling vegetable consumption

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Americans’ consumption of vegetables has not increased, despite advice to the contrary from the health and nutrition community. A recent linking of ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with intake surveys reveals that total vegetable consumption fell across four U.S. age and gender groups between 1994-98 and 2007-08, though the decline for women was small. Much of the vegetable decline was driven by reduced consumption of potatoes. Boys had the largest drop; their potato consumption fell from 63.7 pounds (fresh-weight equivalent) per person per year in 1994-98 to 45.2 pounds in 2007-08. Intake of tomatoes—the second most consumed vegetable—held fairly steady for all age groups. When consumption of potatoes and tomatoes is subtracted from the mix, consumption of other vegetables by girls, boys, and men fell, too, but not as sharply as that of potatoes. For women, annual consumption of nonpotato and nontomato vegetables increased by 2.2 pounds per person. This chart appears in “A Closer Look at Declining Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Using Linked Data Sources” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Working-age Americans spend more time eating while doing something else than other age groups do

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Analyzing the time Americans spend in various activities, and, in particular, food-related activities, may provide some insight into why nutrition and health outcomes vary over time and across different segments of the population. According to the ERS-developed Eating and Health Module of the nationally representative American Time Use Survey, on an average day in 2014, Americans age 15 and older spent 64 minutes eating and drinking as a “primary” or main activity. They spent an additional 16 minutes in eating as a secondary activity, that is, while doing something else such as watching television, driving, preparing meals, or working. People age 65 and older spent considerably more time on average in primary eating and drinking—76 minutes—than those in the younger age groups. Those age 65 and older who were employed spent about the same amount of time in primary eating/drinking and in secondary eating as their peers who were not employed, indicating that there may be generational differences in eating patterns not driven by the amount of time available in retirement. Working-age individuals, ages 25-64, spent the most time in secondary eating in 2014. This chart is from ERS’ Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product, updated May 16, 2016.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, fresh is not always cheaper than canned or frozen

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fruits and vegetables can be purchased in fresh, canned, dried, and juiced forms. Oftentimes, different forms of the same fruit or vegetable are interchangeable. For example, when cooking some types of stew, fresh or frozen carrots may be used. However, which is less expensive, fresh or processed? ERS researchers estimated average prices paid in 2013 for 24 fresh fruits, 40 fresh vegetables, and 92 processed fruits and vegetables, measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a standard 1-cup measuring cup; for lettuce and other raw leafy vegetables, a cup equivalent is 2 cups, and for raisins and other dried fruits, one-half cup. Neither fresh nor processed products turned out to be consistently less expensive. Fresh carrots eaten raw are less expensive to consume than canned carrots and frozen carrots. Fresh apples are similarly cheaper than applesauce. However, canned corn and frozen raspberries are less costly than fresh corn and fresh raspberries, respectively. Relative retail prices may reflect the different prices received by growers, as well as differences in processing, handling, and spoilage costs, which vary by form and product. This chart appears in “Fruit and Vegetable Recommendations Can Be Met for $2.10 to $2.60 per Day” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, March 2016.

Canned fruit isn't more expensive when packed in juice

Monday, March 7, 2016

Canned fruits account for about 10 percent of all fruit consumed by Americans. Canned products can be convenient and available when fresh products are out of season. When buying canned fruit, ChooseMyPlate—USDA’s campaign to promote the Dietary Guidelines—recommends choosing fruit packed in 100-percent juice rather than syrup. Looking at grocery store shelf prices, consumers might believe that fruit packed in syrup is the less expensive option, but this is generally not the case. Five canned fruits in the ERS Fruit and Vegetable Prices data product—apricots, peaches, pears, pineapples, and fruit cocktail—were more expensive to buy at retail stores on a per-pound basis when packed in juice. However, because consuming juice counts towards an individual’s recommended fruit intake, four of these products were cheaper on a per-edible-cup-equivalent basis when packed in juice. An edible cup equivalent of fruit is generally the edible portion of a food that would fill a 1-cup measuring cup. This chart is based on the recent ERS report, The Cost of Satisfying Fruit and Vegetable Recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines released on February 26, 2016.

Federal funding for nutrition research has grown

Friday, March 4, 2016

USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are the lead Federal agencies that conduct human nutrition research. Federal financial investments in nutrition research more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1985 to 2009, growing at an average annual rate of 3 percent. All of this growth was due to increased DHHS funding, especially between 1999 and 2003. In those 5 years, Congress implemented its plan to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health, the lead agency within DHHS supporting nutrition research. USDA funding fell at an average annual rate of 1.4 percent between 1985 and 2009. Over the 25-year period, USDA’s share of total Federal support fell from 21 to 7 percent, and DHHS’s share rose from 79 to 93 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report, Improving Health Through Nutrition Research: An Overview of the U.S. Nutrition Research System, January 2015.

Two-percent milk accounts for the largest share of fluid milk availability

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

According to ERS’s Food Availability data, 19.1 gallons of fluid milk were available for each U.S. consumer to drink in 2013, down from a peak of 42.3 gallons in 1945. Declining per capita milk consumption reflects a variety of factors—competition from soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled water, and other beverages; generational differences in the frequency of milk drinking; and a more ethnically diverse population, some of whose diets do not normally include fluid milk. Plain (unflavored) 2-percent milk surpassed plain whole milk in 2005 and became America’s most popular milk. In 2013, plain 2-percent milk accounted for 35 percent of fluid milk availability (6.7 gallons per person), while plain whole-milk availability was 5.2 gallons per person, down from its high of 38 gallons in 1945. Plain 1-percent milk and skim milk each accounted for 14 percent of fluid milk availability. Flavored milks, such as chocolate and strawberry, made up 9 percent of fluid milk availability in 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated September 18, 2015.

Allocation of food-at-home expenditures across food categories does not vary much by income

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Most Americans have plenty of room to improve the nutritional quality of their diets and how they spend their food dollars. ERS researchers analyzed dietary recall data from the 2011-12 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that average dietary scores of consumers across different household incomes ranged from 48.1 to 54.5 on a scale from 0 to 100. (A score of 100 indicated full compliance with Federal dietary guidance.) How consumers allocate their grocery store food dollars among food categories reflect these scores. U.S. households across income levels had similar spending patterns for most food categories—allocating a much smaller share to fruits and vegetables (17 to 19 percent) than miscellaneous foods, such as soft drinks, frozen meals, salad dressings, and snacks (34 to 37 percent). This chart appears in “Following Dietary Guidance Need Not Cost More—But Many Americans Would Need to Re-Allocate Their Food Budgets” in ERS’s September 2015 Amber Waves magazine.

Potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce make up close to 60 percent of U.S. vegetable and legume availability

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When consumers are advised in the produce aisle that “More Matters,” they are not just being encouraged to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables, but more variety as well. Restricting one’s diet to a limited set of vegetables precludes the desired variety that would supply more diverse, healthful nutrients. According to ERS’s Food Availability data, just three vegetables—white potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce—accounted for 59 percent of the vegetables and legumes that were available for consumption in 2013. White potatoes accounted for 30 percent of the 384.4 pounds per person of vegetables and legumes available in 2013. Tomatoes had a 22-percent share, with 20.2 pounds per person of fresh tomatoes and 65.9 pounds per person of processed tomatoes. Fresh lettuce (head lettuce, romaine, and leaf lettuce) rounded out the top 3 vegetables at 25.5 pounds per person—7 percent of 2013’s total vegetable and legume availability. This chart appears in “Potatoes and Tomatoes Account for Over Half of U.S. Vegetable Availability” in the September 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Wider group of universities and institutions conducting federally supported nutrition research

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are the lead Federal agencies that conduct and fund human nutrition research. From 1985 to 2009, funding shifted from research at Federal nutrition laboratories and land-grant universities toward competitive research grants for non-Federal researchers, as DHHS’s share of total nutrition research funding grew from 79 to 93 percent. Over this period, the share of federally funded nutrition research projects conducted by government researchers fell from 12 to 6 percent and the share conducted by land-grant universities declined from 34 to 22 percent. In 2009, non-land-grant universities accounted for 41 percent of Federal nutrition research projects and other institutions (medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions) had a 29-percent share—up from 30 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in 1985. This chart appears in “Federal Support for Nutrition Research Trends Upward as USDA Share Declines” in the June 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Vegetable costs range from 18 cents to $2.58 per cup equivalent

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When it comes to vegetable consumption, “More Matters.” Eating a variety and sufficient quantity of vegetables is important for good health, but how much would it cost to add some baby carrots, romaine lettuce, or fresh asparagus to your diet? ERS estimated average prices paid in 2013 for 93 fresh and processed vegetables (including beans and peas), measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a 1-cup measuring cup; 2 cups for lettuce and other raw leafy greens. ERS researchers found that fresh iceberg lettuce, fresh whole carrots, dried pinto beans, and 13 other products cost less than 40 cents per cup equivalent, while 58 vegetables, including fresh romaine lettuce, baby carrots, and canned tomatoes, cost between 40 and 79 cents per cup equivalent. Fresh asparagus, at $2.58 per cup equivalent, is the priciest of these 93 vegetables. The data in this chart are from ERS's Fruit and Vegetable Prices data product.

Over 30 retail fruits cost less than 80 cents per cup equivalent

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Food intake surveys find Americans consuming about half the amount of recommended fruits per day. One reason may be that some consumers perceive fruit to be expensive. ERS calculated average prices paid in 2013 for 63 fresh and processed fruits measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a 1-cup measuring cup; 1/2 cup for raisins and other dried fruits. The amount of fruit a person should eat per day depends on age, gender, and level of activity. For a 2,000-calorie diet, 2 cup equivalents of fruits per day is recommended. Fresh watermelon at 21 cents per cup equivalent and apple juice (made from concentrate) at 27 cents were the lowest priced fruits, while fresh blackberries, fresh raspberries, and canned cherries were the priciest. Thirty-five fruits cost less than 80 cents per cup equivalent. The data in this chart are from ERS's Fruit and Vegetable Prices data product on the ERS website, updated March 19, 2015.

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