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.


Healthy weight adults spend more time eating than do overweight and obese adults

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Data from the newly released Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey reveal findings about time spent eating and body weight that are that consistent with patterns from studies in other countries. On an average day in 2016, healthy weight adults age 20 and older spent more time eating than did overweight and obese adults. Compared with overweight adults, healthy weight adults spent 10 percent more time eating (88 minutes versus 80 minutes per day). Differences in the time spent eating between healthy weight and obese adults were larger. Healthy weight adults spent 11.4 percent more time eating than adults with low-risk obesity and 20.5 percent more time eating than adults with higher risk obesity on an average day. Total time spent eating includes both time spent eating and drinking as a primary, or main, activity (primary eating) and time spent eating while doing something else, such as watching television or driving (secondary eating). The differences in total time spent eating by body weight category were driven by differences in primary, not secondary eating. Time use information can be found in ERS’s Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product, updated December 2017.

Households with obese children differ from those with no obese children

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to look at how households with at least one obese child differ from households without any obese children. The study found that the parents with obese children were less likely to be married, employed, or have a college degree. For example, the shares of fathers and mothers who were employed were lower among obese-child households (87 percent for fathers and 60 percent for mothers) relative to parents in nonobese-child households (93 percent for fathers and 63 percent for mothers). In addition, less than a quarter of fathers and mothers had a college degree or higher among obese-child households, whereas more than one third of fathers and mothers had the same level of education among nonobese-child households. A version of this chart appears in "Households With at Least One Obese Child Differ in Several Ways From Those Without" in the December 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Obesity of parents is associated with obesity of children

Thursday, September 14, 2017

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 out of 5 children and adolescents (ages 2-19) are obese in the United States. A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to look at how households with at least one obese child differ from households without an obese child. The study found that the parents of obese children were more likely to be unmarried, less educated, and have lower incomes. The researchers also found a strong association between parents’ and children’s obesity. About a quarter of mothers (27 percent) and fathers (25 percent) with no obese children were obese. In contrast, 42 percent of mothers and 43 percent of fathers with at least one obese child were obese. This strong association suggests that shared environments and genetic compositions likely play an important role in childhood obesity. The data for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Differences in Characteristics Among Households With and Without Obese Children: Findings From USDA’s FoodAPS, released on September 13, 2017.

Federal support for nutrition research increasingly focuses on obesity

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The relationships between nutrition, dietary choices, and health are established through research. USDA and the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) have a long history of supporting research to advance knowledge and innovation, with the ultimate goal of improving human health. DHHS’s Human Nutrition Research Information Management (HNRIM) system—which tracks Federal research support by fiscal year—shows obesity-related nutrition research grew more than seven-fold over a 25-year period, rising from 78 projects in 1985 to 577 projects by 2009. In contrast, nutrition research in food science, which includes food processing, preservation, and other food-related technologies, declined from 226 projects in 1985 to 177 projects by 2009. In the decade from 1999 to 2009, the overall number of DHHS-supported projects grew 7.4 percent annually, while USDA-supported projects fell by 2.8 percent annually. As USDA supports close to 80 percent of Federal nutrition research in food science, the decline in food science projects reflects changes in the size and composition of USDA’s portfolio of nutrition research projects. This chart is based on data in the ERS report, Improving Health through Nutrition Research: An Overview of the U.S. Nutrition Research System, January 2015.

Fruits and vegetables comparable in price per portion to snack foods

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Replacing calorie-dense snack foods with calorie-sparse fruits and vegetables can be one step in addressing childhood obesity and does not have to compromise a family’s food budget. An ERS analysis of prices per portion for 20 common snack foods and 20 potential fruit and vegetable substitutes found that 9 of the 20 fruits and vegetables and 8 of the 20 snack foods cost 25 cents per portion or less; an additional 8 fruits and vegetables and 10 snack foods cost between 26 and 50 cents per portion. On average, the 20 fruits and vegetables cost 31 cents per portion and the 20 snack foods cost 33 cents per portion. A household making all possible 400 substitutions between the 20 snack foods and the 20 fruits and vegetables would save an average of 2 cents and 126 calories per swap. The statistics in this chart are from "Gobbling Up Snacks: Cause or Potential Cure for Childhood Obesity?" in the December 2012 issue of ERS’ Amber Waves magazine.

Obese Americans watched 37 minutes more television on an average day than normal-weight Americans

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Using data from time use surveys, ERS researchers analyzed associations between time spent by Americans age 20 and older on 24 major activity categories and body mass index (BMI--a measure of weight adjusted for height). Associations do not necessarily indicate causality, but they can provide insight into differences in behavior among people of different weight categories. The largest disparity between normal weight people and obese people was in time spent watching television. Normal-weight individuals spent an average of 147 minutes per day watching TV during 2006-08, while those who were overweight spent 164 minutes, and those who were obese spent 184 minutes. This chart appeared in "Investigating the Time Use Patterns of Obese Americans" in the June 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Food price increases have slight effect on children's weights

Monday, June 25, 2012

Some public health advocates point to lower priced, high-calorie foods as one of the contributors to the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity, claiming the low prices encourage households to buy and consume more of these foods. ERS researchers linked national data on children's body mass indices (BMI, a measure of weight adjusted for height) with prices for eight foods and beverages in ERS's Quarterly Food-at-Home Price Database. The researchers found that price increases for some high-calorie foods and beverages are likely to have small, but statistically significant, effects on children's BMI, and in the direction expected. A 10-percent increase in the price of carbonated beverages lowered BMI by 0.42 percent over a year, while the same increase in the price of 100 percent juices and starchy vegetables lowered BMI by 0.3 percent over a year. This chart appeared in "What Role Do Food and Beverage Prices Have in Childhood Obesity?" in the June 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Eating out increases daily caloric intake

Friday, June 3, 2011

American households spend more than 40 percent of their total food budget on foods prepared outside of the home, up from 25 percent in 1970. Although it is possible to eat healthy away from home, studies have shown that the foods people select when they eat out generally have more calories, fat, and saturated fat than at-home meals and snacks. ERS researchers found that the effect of food prepared away from home on daily caloric intake depends on an individual's weight status. An away-from-home meal adds an average of 239 calories to daily caloric intake for individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30, versus 88 additional calories for those with a BMI less than 25. This chart appeared in the June 2010 issue of Amber Waves magazine.

Taxing caloric sweetened beverages to curb obesity

Monday, March 28, 2011

ERS researchers analyzed the effects of a hypothetical tax on caloric sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks, powdered mixes, and energy and sports drinks. The researchers found that a 20-percent tax on these beverages purchased at grocery stores and restaurants could trigger changes in consumption that would result in an average reduction of 37 calories a day for adults, which translates into a loss of 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year. The estimated decreases for children averaged 43 calories a day, or 4.5 pounds over a year. This graphic originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Amber Waves magazine.

Charts of Note header image for left nav