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Potatoes and tomatoes are America’s top vegetable choices

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data, Americans consumed an average of 156.3 pounds of fresh and processed vegetables per person in 2015. The loss-adjusted food availability data series takes per capita supplies of food available for human consumption and adjusts for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in restaurants, grocery stores, and the home to more closely approximate consumption. Potatoes claimed the #1 spot at 48.3 pounds per person, including both fresh potatoes and processed products (frozen, canned, and dehydrated potatoes and potato chips and shoestrings). Canned tomatoes are the leading canned vegetable, and total tomato consumption—fresh and canned—came in second at 28.3 pounds per person. Americans consumed 7.7 pounds of fresh and dehydrated onions per person in 2015, almost a pound more than head lettuce consumption. Consumption of carrots, sweet corn, and romaine and leaf lettuce finished the list of America’s top seven vegetable choices. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

Distance to grocery stores and vehicle access affect low-income shoppers’ food spending

Monday, April 30, 2018

Difficulty accessing large grocery stores may increase a household’s reliance on smaller stores and restaurants, possibly resulting in a diet of low-nutritional quality and related health problems. ERS researchers used data captured in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if differences in how far low-income households live from large grocery stores and whether they own a car influences their food spending behaviors. Among low-income households, the researchers found that access-burdened and sufficient-access households spent similar shares of their weekly food spending at grocery stores (57-58 percent) and at small grocery, ethnic, and specialty food stores (3-5 percent). Differences between the two low-income access groups did arise in spending at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores and at eating places. Access-burdened households spent a higher share of their food expenditures at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores than sufficient-access households and a smaller share of their food budgets at eating places. In 2012, 26.4 percent of U.S. households were low-income sufficient-access households and 4.7 percent were low-income access-burdened. This chart is from "Distance to Grocery Stores and Vehicle Access Influence Food Spending by Low-Income Households at Convenience Stores," in the March 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Fiber content of yogurt and breakfast cereal products increasing

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identifies fiber as a key nutrient that is under-consumed by many people. However, increasing fiber consumption requires that consumers be able to identify high-fiber foods, highlighting the importance of labeling and marketing. Recent ERS analysis found that the average fiber content in yogurt products increased by 20.2 percent between 2008 and 2012. New yogurt products with added fiber to promote the growth of probiotics and with toppings, such as granola, crushed cookies, and nuts, contributed to the increase. New yogurt products with either a probiotic health claim on the package or yogurt toppings contained twice as much fiber on average than new products without the health claim or toppings. Average fiber content among breakfast cereal products rose by 6.9 percent between 2008 and 2012. Consumers’ preferences for breakfast cereals made with fiber-rich whole grains have driven the increase in fiber levels. New cereal products carrying a whole grain claim contained almost 47 percent more fiber compared to new products without the claim. This chart appears in "Yogurt Products and Breakfast Cereals Increasing Their Fiber Contents" in the February 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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.

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.

Sodium content of some food products slowly declining

Monday, December 4, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge consumers to make careful food choices to lower sodium intake from the current average of 3,440 mg per day to less than 2,300 mg. The Dietary Guidelines point out that most sodium consumed in the United States comes from salts added by food processors and foodservice establishments—hence the need for making careful choices in the grocery store and when eating out. Food companies face challenges in reducing sodium because of the role salt plays in the taste and cost of their products. Steep decreases in salt can lead to changes in product taste, which can result in lost sales. Salt is a relatively inexpensive ingredient, and food manufacturers currently do not have similarly-priced options to replace it in their products. A recent ERS report found that from 2008 to 2012, average sodium content in three food categories declined as new lower sodium products replace those with higher sodium contents, with a decrease of 2.5 percent in yogurt products, a 4-percent reduction in breakfast cereals, and a 3.5-percent decrease in snacks. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, An Assessment of Product Turnover in the U.S. Food Industry and Effects on Nutrient Content, published on November 20, 2017.

Thanksgiving is a day for food, and Black Friday is a day for non-food shopping

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Do people really spend that much time preparing food, eating, drinking, and cleaning up the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and on holiday shopping on Black Friday? The answer to both questions is, “Yes!” Over a survey period of 2003-16, Americans spent an average of 88 minutes eating and drinking on Thanksgiving. This was about 15 minutes greater than the time Americans spent eating and drinking on average for 6 other major holidays. Similarly, compared with the average for these non-Thanksgiving holidays, Americans spent much more time engaged in meal preparation and cleanup (127 minutes versus 46 minutes). Now, when it comes to the day after Thanksgiving, relative to other days, Americans tend to spend more of their time shopping for items other than food. Americans spent 46 minutes shopping for non-food items on an average Black Friday, which is about 250 percent higher than an average non-Thanksgiving holiday. More information on ERS’s Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey can be found in ERS’s Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product.

Oranges and apples are America’s top fruit and fruit juice choices

Monday, October 23, 2017

Americans consumed an average of 115.4 pounds of fresh and processed fruit per person in 2015, according to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data. This data series takes per capita supplies of food available for human consumption and adjusts for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in eating places, grocery stores, and the home to more closely approximate consumption. Apple juice consumption at 14 pounds (1.6 gallons) per person in 2015, combined with fresh apples at 10.7 pounds per person, and canned, dried, and frozen apples (3.3 pounds per person), puts apples in the #1 spot for total fruit consumption. While orange juice leads juice consumption at 23.7 pounds (2.7 gallons), total orange consumption—juice and fresh—came in second. Americans consumed 11.3 pounds of fresh bananas per person in 2015, almost a pound more than fresh apple consumption. Consumption of grapes reached 7.9 pounds per person, and strawberries, watermelon, and pineapple rounded out the list of America’s top fruit choices. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated September 2017.

Distance to grocery stores and vehicle access influence where low-income households shop for food

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Households that struggle to get to large grocery stores may rely on close by sources of food such as convenience stores or fast-food restaurants that generally provide a smaller variety of healthy foods. A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if food shopping behaviors of access-burdened households—those that live more than 0.5 of a mile from a SNAP-authorized supermarket or superstore and do not have a vehicle—differ from households that live within 0.5 of a mile of these stores or have their own vehicle (sufficient-access households). Looking only at SNAP and low-income non-SNAP households, the researchers found that 74 percent of access-burdened households visited a supermarket, superstore, or large grocery store during an average week in 2012, compared to 85 percent of sufficient-access households. Access-burdened households did not appear to substitute convenience stores and restaurants for visits to large grocers; only 63 percent of access-burdened households visited an eating place compared with 78 percent of sufficient-access households, and differences in convenience store visits were not statistically significant. The data for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Influence of Food Store Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spending, released on October 18, 2017.

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.

Americans’ consumption of vegetables and legumes has moved closer to recommendations

Friday, September 8, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet consume 2½ cup-equivalents (cup-eq) of vegetables per day. A cup-eq of vegetables is generally equal to 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens. The Guidelines include recommended amounts of five vegetable subgroups (dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy, and other) and advise Americans to consume a variety of vegetables from each subgroup. According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data (a proxy for consumption), the average American consumed 1.72 cup-eq of vegetables and legumes per day in 2015—69 percent of the daily recommendation for a 2,000 calorie-per-day-diet—and up from 1.49 cup eq in 1970. While starchy vegetable consumption declined by 17 percent (mostly due to drops in fresh potatoes and canned corn), daily dark green vegetable consumption grew from 0.02 cup-eq in 1970 to 0.15 cup-eq in 2015. Romaine and leaf lettuce and fresh broccoli were the largest contributors, reflecting the growing demand for salads and fresh vegetables. Consumption of legumes and other vegetables increased, closing in on the Guidelines’ recommendations. Red and orange vegetable consumption grew to 0.23 cup-eq per day in 2015, but is still just 30 percent of the recommendation. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, updated July 26, 2017.

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.

Meal preparation time varies across different U.S. demographic groups

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On an average day in 2014, Americans age 18 and over spent 37 minutes in food preparation and cleanup. However, the average time spent in “meal prep”—defined as preparing food and beverages, serving them, and cleaning up afterwards—varied considerably among different groups. Men spent an average of 22 minutes, whereas women spent an average of 51 minutes. Younger adults (age 18-24) spent an average of 21 minutes, while working-age adults (age 25-64) spent 38 minutes. Those age 65 or older spent an average of 43 minutes. Employed individuals spent less time in meal prep than those not employed, and those in households without children spent less time than those in households with children. Participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) had the longest average duration in meal prep time—62 minutes. Time spent preparing infant formula, breastfeeding, and pumping breast milk is included in meal prep time in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). These time use data are from the ERS-developed 2014 Eating & Health Module—a supplement to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ATUS. This chart appears in “Americans Spend an Average of 37 Minutes a Day Preparing and Serving Food and Cleaning Up” in ERS’s November 2016 Amber Waves magazine.

Seventy percent of U.S. calories consumed in 2010 were from plant-based foods

Friday, January 6, 2017

ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data provide estimates of the sources of calories in the U.S. diet. These data are derived from the supply of food available for consumption and adjusted for inedible peels and pits and for spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate actual intake. Loss-adjusted daily calories per person decreased by 2 percent between 2000 and 2010 from 2,545 to 2,481 calories. The share of calories from animal- and plant-based foods was the same in both years at 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively. In both years, grains were the primary contributor to daily calories per capita. Added plant-based fats and oils—such as salad and cooking oils, margarine, and shortening—ranked second, followed by meat, poultry, and fish. Per capita availability of calories from nuts showed the largest percentage change, posting a 25-percent increase to 72 calories per day in 2010. Calories from the vegetable and added sugar and sweeteners categories decreased by 11 percent. This chart appears in “A Look at Calorie Sources in the American Diet” in the December 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

SNAP households are less likely to think they eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables

Friday, December 9, 2016

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adult men and women eat between 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit per day. To help gauge perceived dietary habits, respondents in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) were asked a series of questions about their health and diet. When the primary respondents (the main food shopper or meal planner in the household) were asked if they think they eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables or if they should eat more, 76.1 percent of primary respondents in households receiving SNAP benefits said they should eat more. In contrast, 66.1 percent of those who reside in households not receiving SNAP felt they should eat more fruits and vegetables. By better understanding perceived health and dietary habits, food assistance programs may be modified to help Americans follow heathier diets. This chart appears in “FoodAPS Data Now Available to the General Public” in the December 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Yes, Thanksgiving really is a day of cooking

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

If you think Thanksgiving is a day spent cooking, eating, and socializing, you are correct. On this national holiday over a survey period of 2003-15, Americans spent an average of 128 minutes in meal preparation and cleanup—over three times the 34 minutes spent on these tasks on an average Saturday or Sunday. Time spent eating and drinking is greater as well--89 minutes on Thanksgiving versus an average of 71 minutes on a average weekend day. Socializing time is over twice the weekend average—148 minutes versus 64 minutes. All this cooking, cleaning, and socializing leaves less time for other weekend activities. The average time spent in sports and exercise is less on Thanksgiving, as is time spent on shopping, including online purchases. Less time is also spent on paid work (32 minutes versus 75 minutes) and travel (55 minutes versus 72 minutes) due to less commuting. Time spent watching television and movies, however, is about the same as the average weekend day. This chart uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey and draws from the ERS report, Americans’ Eating Patterns and Time Spent on Food: The 2014 Eating & Health Module Data.

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.

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