Americans are obsessed with calories — counting them, burning them and searching for new ways to avoid them. And yet, over the last four decades, we've increased our caloric consumption by nearly thirty percent.
Why has this happened? What accounts for this increase? Are other countries experiencing the same thing?
Below are some interactive visual aids to help answer these questions. Check them out to get the inside scoop on Calories in the USA.
In the US, the average daily dietary intake has increased by 600 calories — from 2,172 to 2,775 — over the last thirty-seven years. That may not surprise you, but the details just might.
In this chart, we see that Americans are actually eating roughly the same number of calories in five of seven food groups — fruit, vegetables, dairy, sugar and protein. However...
in daily calorie consumption since 1970.
We'll focus on those two food groups in subsequent charts to see exactly what's going on.
How does the United States rank worldwide, in terms of daily caloric intake?
Switzerland ranked #1, with much of Eastern and Western Europe close behind.
Our Canadian neighbors to the North haven't fared much better, rising from the 33rd most caloric country to #2.
Note that this graph does not account for spoilage and waste, which explains the discrepancy between this chart and some of the others.
The average daily dietary intake in the United States increased by 600 calories between 1970 and 2007.
is attributable to a single food source.
Over the last thirty-seven years, the American diet has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calories from cooking oils and related salad oils.
One explanation is the proliferation of fast-food restaurants — though Americans eat about the same number of calories in nearly every other food group, today's meals are much more likely to be fried in highly-caloric oil than the same meals in 1970.
Update: Astute reader Terry points out that the USDA changed the way they account for fat calories beginning in 2000. This accounts for about 100 calories of the increase, or approximately one-third.
As the USDA developed and publicized a food pyramid that looked like this, Americans began increasing their consumption of grains in the form of breads, cereals and pastas.
Americans are eating more of than in 1970.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the average American has not increased consumption of calories from dairy products in the last thirty-seven years.
While Americans are drinking fewer calories of milk, they are making up for it by consuming more calories from cheese products.
Though Americans are eating slightly more calories from sugar than in 1970, the rise is not that dramatic. Calories from added sugars peaked in 1999 at 510 per day, up from 402 in 1970. That number receded to 459 in 2007.
The big shift, however, comes in the form of sugar ingested.
to 41% of Americans total sugar intake.
HFCS, virtually non-existent in 1970, is less-expensive than cane or beet sugar to produce, due to government tariffs on sugar and incentives on corn production.
Americans get only 5 percent of their calories from vegetables, not surprising when you consider that most vegetables are so low in calories.
The breakdown into individual foods, however, is intriguing...
nearly 60% come from potatoes or potato chips.
Americans have followed the USDA's advice in eating fewer calories of red meat. Calories consumed from Beef have dropped over 20% since 1970.
However, overall calorie consumption from protein sources has not changed significantly.
One of the reasons Americans are eating more calories today than in 1970 is that price of food, when adjusted for inflation, has dropped.
What is disturbing, though, is that the price of added sugars has dropped significantly more than the price of healthful foods has. This can be attributed to the proliferation of low-cost High-Fructose Corn Syrup over the last thirty years.
has dropped by half since 1970.
The purchase price of each food group has changed as follows:
- Fruit sources: 30% increase
- Vegetable sources: Unchanged
- Grain sources: 29% decrease
- Dairy sources: 38% decrease
- Fat sources: 38% decrease
- Protein sources: 50% decrease
- Sugar sources: 50% decrease
Final Thoughts, Acknowledgments and Sources
Calorie statistics for the US come from the USDA's Economic Research Service. The worldwide statistics, as well as cost estimates, come from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The technology behind the world map was provided by DIY Map.
Want to see more food databases like this one made into interactive graphics? Let me know which ones and I might just take a crack at it. Worldwide ice cream consumption, anybody? Or maybe something to do with coffee?