Consumers’ ongoing battle of the bulge generally is seen as the result of too many calories and not enough exercise. The first part of that may be in part explained by government data showing a slight increase in total caloric intake over the past decade and a 12% increase since 1985. Interesting is that large gains in calories from added fats and oils more than offset fewer calories from all other categories, including sweeteners, since 1999.
The obesity problem in the United States has been well documented. The latest full-year statistics (2011) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed all states had at least 20% of their populace considered obese, 27 states had an obesity rate of 25% to 30% and 12 states had a rate of 30% to 35%. It was estimated that more than 35% of adults, about 78 million Americans, were considered obese with a body mass index of 30 or more.
One of the ways a few groups, including some in government, have sought to tackle the obesity problem is by legislating the sale of “sugary” drinks and other “empty calorie” snacks. Perhaps most notable has been Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of “sugary” drinks larger than 16 oz at many outlets in New York City, set to take effect in March.
New York is not the only government entity taking steps to address obesity. In recent days legislation was introduced in California that would prohibit participants in the CalFresh program from using food stamps to buy sweetened beverages with more than 10 calories per cup.
In its January Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook, the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared total daily average per capita calories based on U.S. food availability for three points in the past three decades: 1985, 1999 and 2010. Average daily per capita calories totaled 2,546 in 2010, up 38 calories, or 1.5%, from 2,508 total calories in 1999 and up 276 calories, or 12%, from 2,270 total calories in 1985.
In 1985 sugar and sweeteners accounted for 352 calories, or 16%, of the average daily intake of 2,270 calories. In 1999, the category rose to 429 calories, or 17%, of the 2,508 calorie total. But in 2010 calories from sugar and sweeteners fell to 379, or 15%, of the increased total average intake of 2,546 calories.
Average daily per capita calories from added sugars rose steadily from 1985 to 1999, when it peaked, and has been declining steadily ever since. Caloric intake from corn sweeteners has been declining since 1999 while calories from sugar declined from 1999 to 2002 but has risen slightly since 2003. Sweetener deliveries to the U.S. beverage industry, as a percentage of total sweetener deliveries, held at 35% or above from 1997 to 2004, but has since declined to less than 31%, about equal to the 1984 level, according to the U.S.D.A.
As a percentage of total caloric intake, the meat, eggs and nuts category, the flour and cereal category and the dairy category held about steady over the 25-year period.
Calories from vegetables and fruits have stayed about the same or declined while total caloric intake rose.
Fats, which include added fats and oils and dairy fats, on the other hand, contributed 427 calories, or 19%, of the total in 1985, 444 calories, or 18%, in 1999, and 588 calories, or 23%, of the 2,546 calorie total in 2010.
There are few Americans that fall into the category of needing more than 2,500 calories per day. The U.S.D.A. says consumers needing 2,600 or more calories daily include 19-20 year old “sedentary” males, 15-45 year old “moderately active” males and 13-75 year old “active” males. There were no females in any category needing more than 2,400 calories daily. Sedentary was basically described as a lifestyle with no added exercise, moderately active as one with physical activity equal to walking 1.5 to 3 miles daily at 3 to 4 miles an hour and active as equivalent to walking more than 3 miles daily at that same pace.
There’s certainly a disconnect between caloric intake and physical activity with many Americans.
There’s no question obesity is a national problem, even epidemic, that adds billions of dollars to health care costs. The question is, what are the best ways to address it? Data such as this that are produced by the U.S.D.A. may provide additional insight into possible steps that may reduce the impact of obesity on the nation.