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Trans fat levels in U.S. youth dropped from 1999 to 2010

Monday, July 19, 2021

A 2020 USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) study analyzed data publicly released for the first time in March 2019 and found that blood plasma levels of trans fats among youth fell by more than three-fifths (61.9 percent) from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. Trans fats raise artery-clogging “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) levels and lower “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels. Thus, increased intake of trans fats can result in an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. The decrease in blood plasma levels of trans fats among youth came after a recommendation in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to limit consumption of trans fats and a Federal Government requirement that trans fats content be included on packaged food labels. While young people are at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than adults, intake of trans fats in early childhood and adolescence could set in motion processes that lead to the disease in adulthood. Data on blood plasma levels of trans fats of children (ages 6-11 years) and adolescents (ages 12-19 years) living in the United States were drawn from the 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey that assesses the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population. Blood plasma levels of the type of trans fat often found in partially hydrogenated oils fell by about two-thirds (67.2 percent) from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010, compared with a 60.5 percent decline in blood plasma levels of the type often found in dairy products. This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, Trans Fat Levels Among U.S. Youth Fell From 1999 to 2010, June 2021. See also an Amber Waves finding from June 2017, Blood Levels of Trans Fats Among American Adults Fell from 1999 to 2010.

Updated Atlas allows users to compare low-income and low-supermarket access areas in 2015 and 2019

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Access Research Atlas provides a map of neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious, affordable food for the entire United States. Limited access to high-quality, low-cost food may impede some consumers from achieving a healthy diet. The updated Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access census tracts for 2019 and compare the results with those for 2015. Individuals can choose to display one or several of the measures of low-supermarket access that are based on residents’ distances from the nearest supermarket (more than 0.5 or 1 mile in urban areas or more than 10 or 20 miles in rural areas) and whether a substantial number of households have access to a vehicle. One measure considers a tract to be low-income and low-access (LILA) if it is low-income and contains a substantial number of vehicle-less households that live more than 0.5 miles from the nearest supermarket. Using this measure, the number of low-income and low-access census tracts in Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, rose 4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Twenty-three percent of Pulaski County households lived in these tracts in 2019, including 6 percent who lived more than 0.5 miles from a supermarket and did not have a vehicle. This map was created using ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas, updated April 27, 2021.

People spent more time preparing food and eating at home when working from home, 2017-18

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The U.S. Federal Government announced social distancing guidelines in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many U.S. jurisdictions followed by issuing stay-at-home orders. As a result, many people have been working from home since then, which prompts the question: Do individuals who work from home spend time on their daily tasks differently than those who work away from home? While USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers do not have time-use data from the COVID-19 period for the United States, analyses of past time-use patterns provide some insights. ERS researchers used data from the 2017-18 Leave and Flexibilities Job Module of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to study the amount of time respondents spent in food preparation and eating at home, according to the location from which they worked the day covered by the interview. They found that over an average weekday in 2017-18, prime working-age adults who worked from home were more likely to prepare food (75 percent versus 63 percent) and to spend more time doing so (41 minutes compared with 30 minutes) than individuals who worked away from home. Individuals who worked from home spent 49 minutes eating at home, which was nearly double the amount reported by individuals who worked away from home (27 minutes). Teleworkers may consume a healthier diet if the greater time spent preparing food translates into eating more home-prepared meals and less eating out. Home-prepared meals tend to be lower in calories and higher in positive nutrients than meals prepared away from home, according to studies by ERS researchers. This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, “Working From Home Leads to More Time Spent Preparing Food, Eating at Home,” February 2021.

Households are the largest users of fossil fuels in the U.S. food system

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Knowing where natural resource use accumulates is fundamental to understanding what factors influence resource-use decisions. A recent Economic Research Service (ERS) study estimated natural resource use by the U.S. food system in 2007 (2007 data were the latest available with the level of detail needed for the analysis). Farm production was the smallest user of fossil fuels (12 percent of fossil fuel use); households were the largest users (35 percent). Over 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in food production were from farms and ranches, followed by households, and then companies that distribute and market food. For forest products, the greatest use occurred during food processing and packaging, with paper-based packaging accounting for most of this use. Farm production was the dominant user of freshwater withdrawals due to irrigation, but slightly over a third of water use by the food system in 2007 occurred after the farm, including in household kitchens (20 percent) and in the energy industry (12 percent). This chart appears in the ERS report, Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States, and Amber Waves article, “A Shift to Healthier Diets Likely To Affect Use of Natural Resources,” May 2020.

U.S. food system accounted for between 7 to 28 percent of the Nation’s 2007 use of five natural resources

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Conserving natural resources starts with identifying where they are used. A recent Economic Research Service (ERS) study examined how much of 5 of the Nation’s natural resources were used in 2007 to feed Americans aged 2 and above. (2007 data were the latest available with the level of detail needed for the analysis.) The researchers looked at the entire U.S. food system from production of farm inputs—such as fertilizers and feed—through points of consumer purchases in grocery stores and eating-out places to home kitchens. Their estimates show that agricultural land use in the U.S. food system was 25.5 percent of the country’s 2.3 billion acres of total land. Although the study does not account for other food-related land use, such as by forestry and mining industries serving the food system, it does show that about half of agricultural land is dedicated to food production for the U.S. market, and the other half was devoted to nonfood crops, like cotton and corn for producing ethanol, and to export crops, like soybeans. The U.S. food system also accounted for an estimated 28 percent of 2007’s freshwater withdrawals, 11.5 percent of the fossil fuel budget, and 7.2 percent of marketed forest products. Air is a natural resource that is degraded by the addition of greenhouses gases. The food system accounted for an estimated 18.1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States, May 2020 and the Amber Waves feature article, “A Shift to Healthier Diets Likely To Affect Use of Natural Resources.”

Among low-income households, nutrition scores of some dietary components are lower for those that are food-insecure

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

USDA monitors U.S. food security using a series of questions largely focused on whether a household can obtain sufficient quantities of food. However, the quality of foods acquired also affects personal wellbeing. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is unique among Federal surveys in that it collected information on both purchased foods and foods obtained for free, such as from food pantries and free school meals. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used FoodAPS data to examine the nutritional quality of a week’s worth of food at home—foods acquired at supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and food pantries. The researchers focused on low-income households. They used the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which summarizes how well a set of foods compares to recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to assess diet quality. The index compiles scores for 12 components made up of specific food groups and subgroups. After controlling for individual- and household-level characteristics, only a handful of differences were associated with household food insecurity. For every 1,000 calories of food at home acquired, low-income food-insecure households acquired less total fruit, whole fruit, total protein, and seafood and plant proteins compared with low-income food-secure households. An extended version of this chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Score Lower on Diet Quality Compared to Food-Secure Households,” in ERS’s March 2020 Amber Waves magazine.

Veterans’ diets scored higher on dairy and refined grains, but lower on empty calories

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

USDA and the National Cancer Institute developed the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) to measure how closely the foods and beverages that an individual consumes align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Higher scores indicate a higher degree of compliance with recommendations. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used self-reported food intake data to compare veterans’ and nonveterans’ diets. After controlling for economic and demographic differences—for example, veterans tend to be older and are more often male—veterans’ and nonveterans’ average scores differed for three dietary components. Veterans scored higher on components for dairy products and refined grains, but lower on the empty calories component (meaning that empty calories accounted for a larger share of their total calories). In the HEI-2010, 12 component scores for specific food groups and subgroups—with maximum values ranging from 5 to 20—sum to a total score that measures overall diet quality, with a maximum value of 100. Veterans attained an average total HEI of 45.6 out of 100 versus 49.3 for nonveterans. The data for this chart come from the December 2019 ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality. Veterans’ diet quality is also discussed in the February 2020 Amber Waves article, “Much Like Other Americans, Veterans Would Benefit From Improving the Quality of Their Diets.”

Veterans consume a higher share of calories from added sugars and solid fats than nonveterans

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

In a recent study, ERS researchers used self-reported food intake data to explore how veterans’ diets compare with those of nonveterans. The researchers found that, much like other Americans, veterans do not closely follow healthy eating recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, jointly issued every 5 years by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Veterans were found to have somewhat lower quality diets than nonveterans after controlling for demographic differences, such as the fact that veterans tend to be older and are more often male. Veterans’ lower diet quality was primarily due to their higher consumption of calories from added sugars and solid fats. Between 2003 and 2016, added sugars represented 16.4 percent of total calories for veterans, on average, versus 13.8 percent for demographically similar nonveterans. Added sugars include cane and beet sugar, syrups, and other caloric sweeteners. The Dietary Guidelines encourages individuals to keep calories from added sugars below 10 percent of total calories. Veterans obtained another 18.1 percent of their total calories from solid fats, as compared with 15.6 percent for nonveterans. Solid fats are the fats found in meats, poultry, dairy products, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and some tropical oils. The data for this chart come from the ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality, December 2019.

ICYMI... American adults consumed ready-to-eat foods more often in 2015–16 than in 2007–08

Friday, November 29, 2019

Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, developed by ERS, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since 2007. FCBS questions are designed to collect data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their consumption of frozen meals and “ready-to-eat” foods such as salads, soups, chicken, sandwiches, and cooked vegetables from the salad bars and deli counters of grocery stores. Preparing food at home can be a time-intensive activity, and some American adults turn to prepared foods offered in grocery stores when faced with time constraints. ERS researchers used FCBS data to examine changes between 2007–08 and 2015–16 in the frequency of eating grocery-store-prepared dishes and frozen meals and pizzas. Although the average number of times Americans age 20 and older reported consuming frozen meals or pizzas in the past month was similar in both time periods, average past-month consumption of ready-to-eat foods increased by about 26 percent, from 1.9 times in 2007–08 to 2.4 times in 2015–16. Many grocery stores have expanded their ready-to-eat options in recent years. More information from the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website. This Chart of Note was originally published April 26, 2019.

ICYMI... Adults who use restaurant nutrition information consume fewer calories per day than similar adults who do not use the information

Thursday, November 14, 2019

As part of the Federal Government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), respondents are asked whether they see nutrition or health information on fast-food and full-service restaurant menus. If the answer is “yes,” respondents are also asked whether they use that information to decide which foods to buy. ERS researchers compared daily calorie intakes of adults who saw and used the menu information with intakes of adults who noticed the information but chose not to use it. Because information users may differ from nonusers in other ways, ERS researchers also adjusted intakes for differences in socio-demographic characteristics and interview-related factors (e.g., whether intake occurred on a weekday or weekend). Even after accounting for such differences, ERS analysis of NHANES data from 2007–14 reveals that restaurant menu label users consumed 167–180 fewer calories per day than nonusers consumed—a calorie intake gap that is 8 to 9 percent of a 2,000-calorie reference diet. This chart appears in “New National Menu Labeling Provides Information Consumers Can Use To Help Manage Their Calorie Intake” in the October 2018 issue of the ERS Amber Waves magazine. This Chart of Note was originally published March 22, 2019.

Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. households use their own car for their primary grocery shopping

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

ERS developed the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to collect data on the dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits of U.S. consumers. The ease and expense of travelling to grocery stores could affect the variety of perishable foods eaten at home or the choice to prepare a meal at home or dine out. According to 2015-16 FCBS module data, 88.3 percent of households usually drove their own cars to the stores where they did most of their grocery shopping. However, this figure masked differences by family income: While 93.4 percent of households with incomes above 185 percent of Federal poverty guidelines usually drove their own cars to do most of their grocery shopping, the percentage of households below 130 percent of poverty guidelines that usually used this mode of transportation was 78.4 percent. The survey found that 6.7 percent of households usually relied on someone else’s car when traveling to the store where they primarily shopped for groceries; only 3.8 percent usually walked, rode a bicycle, or used public transit. The remaining households (1.2 percent) had another or no usual mode of travel. More information from the FCBS can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website.

American adults consumed ready-to-eat foods more often in 2015–16 than in 2007–08

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, developed by ERS, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since 2007. FCBS questions are designed to collect data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their consumption of frozen meals and “ready-to-eat” foods such as salads, soups, chicken, sandwiches, and cooked vegetables from the salad bars and deli counters of grocery stores. Preparing food at home can be a time-intensive activity, and some American adults turn to prepared foods offered in grocery stores when faced with time constraints. ERS researchers used FCBS data to examine changes between 2007–08 and 2015–16 in the frequency of eating grocery-store-prepared dishes and frozen meals and pizzas. Although the average number of times Americans age 20 and older reported consuming frozen meals or pizzas in the past month was similar in both time periods, average past-month consumption of ready-to-eat foods increased by about 26 percent, from 1.9 times in 2007–08 to 2.4 times in 2015–16. Many grocery stores have expanded their ready-to-eat options in recent years. More information from the FCBS can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website.

Adults who use restaurant nutrition information consume fewer calories per day than similar adults who do not use the information

Friday, March 22, 2019

As part of the Federal Government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), respondents are asked whether they see nutrition or health information on fast-food and full-service restaurant menus. If the answer is “yes,” respondents are also asked whether they use that information to decide which foods to buy. ERS researchers compared daily calorie intakes of adults who saw and used the menu information with intakes of adults who noticed the information but chose not to use it. Because information users may differ from nonusers in other ways, ERS researchers also adjusted intakes for differences in socio-demographic characteristics and interview-related factors (e.g., whether intake occurred on a weekday or weekend). Even after accounting for such differences, ERS analysis of NHANES data from 2007–14 reveals that restaurant menu label users consumed 167–180 fewer calories per day than nonusers consumed—a calorie intake gap that is 8 to 9 percent of a 2,000-calorie reference diet. This chart appears in “New National Menu Labeling Provides Information Consumers Can Use To Help Manage Their Calorie Intake” in the October 2018 issue of the ERS Amber Waves magazine.

Among people who have heard of MyPlate, over one-third of them try to follow the guide’s recommendations

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

ERS developed the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, which, starting in 2007, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. FCBS collects data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their awareness and use of USDA’s educational MyPlate graphic. ERS researchers used FCBS data to estimate the share of Americans who were aware of MyPlate and used it as a guide to support healthy eating patterns. In 2015–16, 26 percent of Americans age 16 and older reported that they had heard of MyPlate. This is a 6-percentage point increase from 2013–14, when 20 percent reported being aware of MyPlate. Among those who had heard of MyPlate in 2015–16, more than one-third of them (35 percent) indicated that they had tried to follow its recommendations—the same share as in 2013–14. Used in nutrition education and displayed on some food packaging, MyPlate depicts a place setting (with a plate and glass) divided into five basic food groups whose sizes correspond to suggested daily intake proportions. MyPlate replaced MyPyramid in June 2011. More information from FCBS can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website, updated February 14, 2019.

Declines in fat content have been largest for home-prepared food

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A recent ERS analysis found that over the last 35 years, the percent of calories coming from fat in at-home foods consumed by Americans declined more than the fat content of away-from-home foods. (At-home foods are foods purchased from supermarkets and other retailers; away-from-home foods are obtained from restaurants, schools, vending machines, sports venues, and other away-from-home sources.) The fat content of at-home foods fell from 41.0 percent of calories in 1977-78 to 32.1 percent in 2011-14. Over the same period, the fat content of away-from-home foods dropped less sharply from 41.2 to 37.4 percent. Changes in fat content can occur because of different choices being made by consumers, changes in product formulations, or both. Changes in fat content varied among the away-from-home sources. The fat content of fast food changed little, while the fat content of foods from restaurants with wait staff declined from 46.1 to 37.1 percent. The fat content of school meals fell to a level similar to that of food at home. School food consists primarily of meals served as a part of USDA’s National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which are required to meet Federal nutrition standards. This chart appears in “Both At Home and Away, Americans Are Choosing More Lower Fat Foods Than They Did 35 Years Ago” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, October 2018.

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.

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