Food Consumption in America by The Numbers: How Much Food Do We Eat?

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I bet almost half of you out there are eating some kind of food right now as you are reading this. In fact, I am munching on some salty tortilla chips while doing research for this article. Don't you just love food? In today's society food it is cheap, easy to store & transport, and available to the consumer at anytime of the day. However, as you may know, it wasn't always like that. In this article, I will discuss food consumption rates in America as well as some of the eating patterns and trends that society has experienced as a whole. In addition to this, I will address some burning questions about food consumption over a person's lifetime.

Food Consumption Totals in America

Did you know that the average American consumes roughly 1,996.3lbs of food per year? That is nearly 1 ton of food annually per person in the USA. What's more interesting is that this includes such things as 29lbs of french fries, 23lbs of pizza, 53 gallons of Soda, and 24 lbs of ice cream per year! That works out be an average of about 2,700 calories per day (as of 2011).

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American's consumption of food has also changed significantly over the past 30 years. Evidence of this is clearly shown in some data obtained from the Economic Research Service (ERS) division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Did you know that in 1970 the average American consumed just 1667.4 lbs of food annually? That's more than 300lbs less per year than what we eat now! The graph below shows the total annual per capita food consumption amounts in America from 1970 to 2011.

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Some interesting conclusions can be deduced from this graph. Prior to the early 1980s, food consumption was relatively stable. After that, consumption began to significantly increase for the next 20 years. The maximum change occurred between 1984 and 1985 when consumption increased by more than 90lbs. After the turn of the 20th century, it appears that food consumption in America stopped increasing. Since then, the annual amount of food eaten in America has remained relatively constant hovering around 1 ton.

The next graph shows the average daily amount of calories consumed for Americans since the 1970s.

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When compared to the amount of food that we eat, you see a similar but slightly different trend in the data. This suggests that people's consumption habits are have also changed over time as well.

Changing Calorie Needs Throughout a Lifetime

Everyone knows that senior citizens require much less food than high school football players do. Each stage in life comes with a different set of caloric needs and therefore a different amount of food. There are a lot of factors that determine how much food a particular person needs. These can include age, gender, size, and lifestyle. The table below is a general guideline for calorie requirements for various life stages:

Estimated Average Daily Calorie Needs

Gender
Age
Sedentary
Moderately Active
Active
Child (Male & Female)
2-3yrs
1,000 - 1,200
1,000 - 1,400
1,000 - 1,400
Female
4-8yrs
1,200 - 1,400
1,400 - 1,600
1,400 - 1,800
 
9-13yrs
1,400 - 1,600
1,600 - 2,000
1,800 - 2,200
 
14-18yrs
1,800
2,000
2,400
 
19-30yrs
1,800 - 2,000
2,000 - 2,200
2,400
 
31-50yrs
1,800
2,000
2,200
 
51+yrs
1,600
1,800
2,000 - 2,200
 
 
 
 
 
Male
4-8yrs
1,200 - 1,400
1,400 - 1,600
1,600 - 2,000
 
9-13yrs
1,600 - 2,000
1,800 - 2,200
2,000 - 2,600
 
14-18yrs
2,000 - 2,400
2,400 - 2,800
2,800 - 3,200
 
19-30yrs
2,400 - 2,600
2,600 - 2,800
3,000
 
31-50yrs
2,200 - 2,400
2,400 - 2,600
2,800 - 3,000
 
51+yrs
2,000 - 2,200
2,200 - 2,400
2,400 - 2,800

As you can see, the caloric needs of humans peaks in their 20s and begins to decline from there.

So, How Much Food Does an Average Person Consume in Their Lifetime?

Given all of the variables and the lack of detailed data available, determining average lifetime food consumption amounts will require a significant amount of estimating. Nonetheless, I am still curious to see just how much food is eaten during the lifetime of an American. My approach to this question will be to use the latest statistics available for daily calories and food volumes consumed and correlate this with the calories required during the various stages of life. The charts below summarizes the results of this analysis and shows some very surprising (and very average) numbers.

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These numbers are pretty striking. From these charts we can definitely say that American people really do eat a lot of food! For example, it is estimated that an average American who is 80 years old would have consumed nearly 68 tons of food during their life. Moreover, that amount of food would have had roughly 67,000,000 calories in it. This really puts things in perspective.

References and Resources

Aubrey, Allison. The Average American Ate (Literally) A Ton This Year. National Public Radio. December 31, 2011. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/31/144478009/the-average-american-ate-literally-a-ton-this-year>

Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. May 2012. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodConsumption>

The Credit Blog. Food Consumption in America. May 2012. <http://www.creditloan.com/blog/2010/07/12/food-consumption-in-america/>

U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010" 7th Edition, December 2010 <http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/publications/dietaryguidelines/2010/policydoc/policydoc.pdf>

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Comments 5 comments

Richawriter profile image

Richawriter 4 years ago from On Top of the World

Holy .......!

Ameri-CAN eat! Being English I'm sure the trend would be something similar as we also eat a lot of junk food and processed foods.

That was a well put together hub with good information.

Thanks for that.

Take care. Rich


katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Love your diagrams and graphs and pictures and you did them all yourself. Well done and well said, I wonder WHY we are all eating too much, could it be the tempting food we are offered via the TV constantly stimulating our gastric juices, urging us to eat more.

It is a national tragedy, particularly in the USA and also bad in Australia, with children often being the hapless victims, so sad for them often due to lack of parental control


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

And people wonder why we have so much obesity in America! This is one of the best hubs I've ever read. I'm bookmarking, voting up and sharing. You also just got a new follower. Brilliantly done, my friend!


NetBlots profile image

NetBlots 4 years ago from Melbourne

This thread has now made me hungry!

Thanks a lot :P haha


Jack 4 years ago

I like this information.

Job well done!

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