ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

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.

Low-income households are less likely to use nutrition information than higher income households

Friday, April 20, 2018

A new ERS study used nine questions from USDA’s 2012-13 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to create a Nutrition Information Use index. The index is based on answers from FoodAPS primary respondents related to their awareness and use of various nutrition education initiatives, such as USDA’s MyPlate guidance and Nutrition Facts labels. The index summarizes the answer scores into one score, giving more weight to more important questions. When answers to questions with more weight are above average (e.g., the person uses Nutrition Facts labels all the time), the score is positive. If the answers are below average (e.g., the person never uses Nutrition Facts labels), the score is negative. Index scores for FoodAPS households ranged from -2.3 to 3.9, with a higher score indicating a greater use of nutrition information. The average score for all households was 0.23, and 58 percent of households had scores between -1.0 and 1.0. Higher income households that did not participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had an average index score that was two and half times higher than SNAP households and low-income non-SNAP households. However, index score differences did not seem to explain why higher income non-SNAP households’ food purchases were more healthful than the other two groups. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Association Between Nutrition Information Use and the Healthfulness of Food Acquisitions, released on April 19, 2018.

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.

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.

Verified non-genetically engineered products see steady increase since 2010

Monday, April 4, 2016

Genetically engineered (GE) crops are now widely used to produce breakfast cereals, corn chips, soy protein bars, and other processed foods and food ingredients, and a market for foods produced without crops grown from GE seed has emerged. The Non-GMO Project is a private group that provides verification services for products made according to best practices for genetically modified organism (GMO) avoidance. In 2014, the Non-GMO Project Verified label appeared on nearly 12,500 products with unique universal product codes (UPC), up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010. Many of the food products verified under this protocol, and bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly logo, are not at risk of GE contamination: that is, they do not contain corn, soybeans, or other crops for which GE varieties are available. Also, over half of the products verified under this protocol are certified organic under USDA’s organic regulations, which already prohibit the use of genetic engineering in organic production and processing. Non-GMO Project Verified labeling currently accounts for most of the conventionally grown U.S. products that are non-GE verified. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.

Healthier eaters are more likely use calorie information at restaurants

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Menu-labeling regulations recently released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants and other retail food chains that sell restaurant-type foods to post the calorie content of standard menu items. This will allow diners to make more informed decisions, if they notice and use the information. A recent ERS study, Menu Labeling Imparts New Information About the Calorie Content of Restaurant Foods, concluded that while many Americans may already be making crude choices between low- and high-calorie menu items, the new regulations will allow them to refine their choices. In another ERS study, researchers found that adults who already practice healthy dietary habits were more likely to use calorie information when eating out. Strongly correlated with a person’s declared willingness to use nutrition information was his or her Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, which assesses an individual’s conformance to Federal dietary guidance. People who said that they would use nutrition information "often" in both fast-food and full-service settings have the highest average HEI scores, both above the national average of 53.1, followed by those who said they would use it "sometimes." The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out.

SNAP participants more likely to use nutrition information in fast-food places

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Questions in the 2007-08 and 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) allow researchers to examine demographic and health-related characteristics of consumers who use nutrition information when eating away from home. Using these data, ERS researchers found differences across population subgroups. Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and low-income nonparticipants are less likely to go to fast-food places than are higher-income people. About 85 percent of SNAP participants and low-income nonparticipants said they ate at fast-food places during the previous 12 months, compared with 93 percent of higher-income people. All three groups are about equally likely to notice nutrition information on fast-food menus. However, upon seeing the information, SNAP participants are more likely to use it (52 percent) than low-income nonparticipants (39 percent) and higher-income people (41 percent). This chart appears in “Calorie Labeling on Restaurant Menus—Who Is Likely to Use It?” in the September 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Women more likely than men to use nutrition information when eating out

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The 2010 Affordable Care Act includes a provision that will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to provide consumers with calorie information on menus and other nutrition information on demand. Understanding who uses current nutrition information provided voluntarily by eating places is useful for anticipating the Act’s impact. Using data from the 2007-08 and 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, ERS researchers found that roughly 90 percent of respondents visited a fast-food or pizza place in the last year and about 88 percent patronized a full-service restaurant. Less than a quarter of those respondents reported seeing nutrition information. In general, women were more likely to see the nutrition information than men, and also more likely to use it in making their eating out selections. For example, in fast-food and pizza places, 48.7 percent of women who saw nutrition information used it, while only 33.1 percent of men did. In full-service restaurants, 59.6 percent of women who saw nutrition information used it, compared to 48.1 percent of men. This chart is based on statistics found in the ERS report, Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out, released on June 27, 2014.

Food companies reduced trans fats in new products from 2005 to 2010

Monday, November 18, 2013

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on November 7th that it plans to take further steps to reduce trans fats in processed foods. Since 2006, the FDA has required food manufacturers to post the amount of trans fats contained in their products. In response to the labeling regulations and media attention to the negative health effects of trans fat consumption, food manufacturers reduced their use of trans fats. ERS researchers found that the average trans fat level for new bakery products (including reformulated ones) declined from 0.49 grams per serving in 2005 to 0.13 grams in 2010—a decline of 73 percent. Trans fat levels for new prepared meals, desserts, snacks, and processed fish, meat, and egg products declined by about 50 percent over the period. More information about trans fats in new food products can be found in the ERS report, New Food Choices Free of Trans Fats Better Align U.S. Diets With Health Recommendations, EIB-95, April 2012.

Taste perceptions may trump health concerns when it comes to fat and sodium in foods

Friday, July 12, 2013

While Americans may be willing to forgo calories in their soft drinks and desserts, they seem less willing to embrace foods with lower fat and sodium levels. Mandatory nutrition labeling and consumer concerns about fat prompted food manufacturers to offer lower fat versions of high-fat foods in the early and mid-1990s. Products with “low/no fat” claims grew from 9 percent of all new products in 1989 to over 25 percent in 1996. But many consumers found the taste of these new fat-free and low-fat foods disappointing, which may have led companies to limit their use of low/no fat claims. From 1997 to 2001, the percentage of new products with low/no fat claims fell from 22 to 10 percent. Concerns that consumers associate poor taste with reduced-sodium foods may have contributed to fewer low/no sodium claims, as well. Products claiming to be “low/no sodium,” “low/no salt,” or “no salt added” fell from 12 percent of all new products in 1989 to 3 percent in 2001, before rising to 5 percent in 2010. This chart appears in “Obesity and Other Health Concerns Lead Food Companies To Step Up Health and Nutrient Claims” in ERS’s July 2013 Amber Waves magazine.

"Gluten-free" and "No trans fats" appearing on more new food products

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Over 7,000 new food and beverage products (including reformulated ones) appeared on grocery store shelves in 2010, and 3,134 of them carried health- and nutrition-related claims, such as “low sugar” or “high fiber,” on their packages. Claims related to gluten, trans fats, and calories were among those with the biggest increases over 2001-10. In 2010, 12 percent of new products claimed to be “gluten free,” up from 1 percent in 2001. Increases in claims related to calories, fiber, and sugar marked a reversal from previous trends during the 1990s. For example, the percent of new products showcasing their fiber contents, which had been falling since 1989, began to increase in 1998. Greater emphasis on health and nutrient claims likely reflects consumer interest in nutrition and obesity stemming from increased coverage of these topics by public and private sources and the media. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Introduction of New Food Products With Voluntary Health- and Nutrition-Related Claims, 1989-2010, February 2013.

Just over 43 percent of new food products in 2010 carried health and nutrition claims

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Food companies may seek to woo customers by placing voluntary health- and nutrition-related claims, such as “low fat” or “high fiber,” on their products’ packages. According to a recent ERS report, new food products (including reformulated ones) bearing health- and nutrition-related claims accounted for 43.1 percent of all new U.S. food and beverage products in 2010, up from 25.2 percent in 2001 and 34.6 percent in 1989. The downward trend in new products with health- and nutrition-related claims during 1989-2001 suggests that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 may have prevented nonqualifying products from making these claims. This chart appears in the ERS report, Introduction of New Food Products With Voluntary Health- and Nutrition-Related Claims, 1989-2010, February 2013.

Dietary Guidelines shifted some Americans' bread purchases toward whole-grain options

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide consumers with science-based advice for making healthy food choices. A new recommendation in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines was that half of all grains people eat be whole grains. ERS researchers analyzed grocery store bread purchases before and after release of the 2005 Guidelines to estimate the impact of the Guidelines separate from other economic factors that affect purchase decisions—such as the price of whole-grain relative to refined-grain bread, changing consumer incomes, seasonality in bread demand, and regional differences in food preferences. The 2005 Guidelines were responsible for households with incomes above 185 percent of the Federal poverty level increasing their whole-grain bread purchases by 19 percent and decreasing refined-grain purchases by 5 percent. While lower income households also purchased more whole-grain bread, their increased purchases were almost entirely due to declining relative prices of whole-grain bread. This chart appears in "Dietary Guidelines Have Encouraged Some Americans To Purchase More Whole-Grain Bread" in the December 2012 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Trans fat levels in new food products down from 2005 levels

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Negative health information about trans fats, combined with 2006 regulations requiring that food labels list the amount of trans fats in the food, have encouraged manufacturers to reformulate their products by reducing and, in many cases, eliminating trans fats. Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated, raising their melting points and allowing them to be used in products such as snack foods and baked goods in place of more expensive animal-based fats, like butter. An ERS analysis of new products (including reformulated ones) introduced during 2005-10 found that trans fat levels for new bakery products declined by 73 percent--from an average of 0.49 grams per serving in 2005 to 0.13 grams in 2010. Trans fat levels for new snacks, desserts, prepared meals, and processed fish, meat, and egg products declined by around 50 percent over the period. This chart appears in "Trans Fats Are Less Common in New Food Products" in the September 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

"No trans fats" claims on new products surpass claims of no/low/reduced fat

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Federal regulations requiring food manufacturers to label the trans fat content of foods, combined with media coverage of the negative health impacts of trans fats, have encouraged manufacturers to reformulate their products and offer more "no trans fats" options. New (including reformulated) food products displaying package claims of no trans fats began appearing in substantial numbers in 2004 and increased every year through 2009. In 2008, the percentage of new products with no trans fats claims exceeded those with no/low/reduced fat claims. The number of new products claiming to have no trans fats dipped to 1,069 in 2010, slightly more than the 1,065 new products claiming to be no/low/reduced fat. This chart appears in New Food Choices Free of Trans Fats Better Align U.S. Diets With Health Recommendations, EIB-95, April 2012.

How producers and consumers respond to nutrition information: the case of whole grains

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Manufacturers were quick to respond to the recommendation in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that at least half of a person's daily grain intake come from whole grains. The average number of new whole-grain products jumped from 4 per month in 2001 to 16 in 2006. For whole-grain products, these reformulations have translated into increased sales of healthier foods. Based on Nielsen Homescan data, whole grain products accounted for 11.1 percent of all pounds of packaged grain products purchased in grocery stores (excluding flours, mixes, and frozen or ready-to-cook products) in 2001. By 2006, whole grains' share of total grain product purchases was 17.9 percent. By 2007, whole grain cereals accounted for 46 percent of all cereals purchased, while whole grain breads accounted for 20 percent of all bread purchased. This chart was originally published in the March 2011 issue of Amber Waves magazine.

Charts of Note header image for left nav