America’s growing girth has focused attention on what—and
how much—we as a Nation have been eating. The ERS food consumption
(per capita) data series, one of the few series tracking long-term
consumption, suggests that Americans are eating more food every
year. The total amount of food available for each person to eat
increased 16 percent from 1,675 pounds in 1970 to 1,950 pounds
in 2003. This increase was not isolated to a few food groups. Fruits
and vegetables also showed an increase.
The increase in food available for consumption resulted in a corresponding jump
in calories, from 2,234 calories per person per day in 1970 to 2,757 calories
in 2003 (after adjusting for plate waste, spoilage, and other food losses). Per
capita consumption of fats and oils, grains, vegetables, and sugars/sweeteners
led the way. Between 1970 and 2003, total per capita consumption of added fats
and oils rose by 63 percent, grain consumption by 43 percent, vegetable consumption
by 24 percent, and sugar and sweetener consumption by 19 percent. Annual corn
sweetener consumption increased to 79 pounds in 2003, up 400 percent from 1970.
This steep rise in corn sweetener consumption is largely due to high-fructose
corn syrup, a low-cost substitute for sugar in beverages.
Even with the mid-1990s push to cut dietary fat, added fats and
oils accounted for an extra 216 calories per person per day—or
42 percent of the 523-calorie increase between 1970 and 2003. Grains
and sugars contributed 188 and 76 added calories. Only in dairy
products did daily calories decline (11 calories), partly due to
the switch from whole to low-fat milk.
Average daily calorie
intake grew by 523 calories
Per capita consumption
Increase in pounds,
Increase in daily calories,
Fats and oils
Sugar and sweeteners
Meat, eggs, and nuts
The ERS per capita data represent the amount of food
and calories available for consumption after adjusting
for spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in the home
or marketing system.