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Schools obtained more fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods after school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012

Monday, October 24, 2022

About 100,000 U.S. public and private nonprofit schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which served about 4.9 billion lunches in fiscal year 2019. The majority of foods served through the NSLP are bought through typical market channels, such as foodservice distributors, with USDA cash reimbursements to schools supporting their purchase. However, schools also make use of the USDA Foods in Schools Program (USDA Foods). Schools have two options for acquiring fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods: USDA Foods purchased by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supplies mainly canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables distributed through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh). After school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012, schools were required to serve more fruits and a wider mix of vegetables, including dark green and red/orange vegetables. Following the change in standards, schools obtained more fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods and especially through DoD Fresh. While there was no clear change in the types of foods chosen from 2006 to 2012, the percent of USDA Foods entitlement funds used for purchasing fruits and vegetables from DoD Fresh rose sharply from 6.7 percent of total USDA Foods in 2012 to 15 percent in 2017. Fruit obtained through AMS—mainly canned and frozen—rose from 9.4 percent of total USDA Foods spending in 2012 to 15.4 percent in 2017. Vegetables obtained from USDA’s AMS slightly rose from 2012 to 2017. As the percentage of spending on fruits and vegetables increased, the percentage spent on meat, poultry, and cheese dropped from nearly 74 percent in 2012 to 61 percent in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Trends in USDA Foods Ordered for Child Nutrition Programs Before and After Updated Nutrition Standards, released September 1, 2022.

Adult obesity increased during first year of COVID-19 pandemic

Monday, August 22, 2022

U.S. adults ages 20 and older reported a 3 percent higher prevalence of obesity during the first year of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a recent study conducted by a researcher at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). The study analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from March 13, 2020, to March 18, 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic baseline period of January 1, 2019, to March 12, 2020. Four behaviors that can influence the risk of obesity—exercise, hours of sleep, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking—were also examined to help explain the change in the adult obesity rate during the pandemic. Participation in exercise rose 4.4 percent over the period and people slept 1.5 percent longer, both associated with reducing obesity. Meanwhile, the number of days in the period of a month in which alcohol was consumed was 2.7 percent higher, and cigarette smoking dropped by 4 percent. Research shows that higher alcohol intake and reduced cigarette smoking can lead to obesity and therefore may have contributed to the higher rate of obesity among U.S. adults during the pandemic. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, "Adult Obesity Prevalence Increased During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic", published July 2022.

School foods were the richest source of dairy in children’s diets in 2017–2018

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

From 2017 to 2018, meals, snacks and other foods at school were the richest source of dairy for children ages 2 to 19. These foods provided an average of 1.99 cups of dairy products per 1,000 calories consumed each day. The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Consumption and Nutrient Intakes data product provides calculations of the average daily consumption of food groups and selected nutrients by food sources. It uses food consumption data collected from a nationally representative sample of U.S. consumers by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Food sources are comprised of foods prepared at home and foods prepared away from home, including foods from restaurants, fast food establishments, and schools. The dairy foods group, as defined by USDA dietary guidance, is a major source of calcium and includes milk, cheese, yogurt, lactose-free milk, and fortified soy milk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–25, recommend individuals 2 years and older should consume 2–3 cups of dairy per day, depending on age and calorie level of dietary pattern. Although no age group meets this recommendation, children come the closest, with school foods making an important contribution. This chart was drawn from the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Food Consumption and Nutrient Intakes Data Product Shines a Light on U.S. Diets”, September 2021.

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.

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.