Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Household Food Expenditure Patterns: A Cluster Analysis: Using Data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, Researchers Are Studying Household Food Expenditure Patterns and Are Learning about the Many Ways People Differ in What and Where They Eat

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Household Food Expenditure Patterns: A Cluster Analysis: Using Data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, Researchers Are Studying Household Food Expenditure Patterns and Are Learning about the Many Ways People Differ in What and Where They Eat

Article excerpt

The 2001 report titled "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity" identified overweight and obesity as major public health problems, costing U.S. society as much as $117 billion a year and posing as great a threat of death as poverty, smoking, or problem drinking. (1) As a first step in screening for overweight and obesity, "Body Mass Index" (BMI) is calculated using a person's weight and height, and this number is viewed as being a reliable indicator of body fat for most people. (2)

The percentage of the U.S. population defined as obese (a BMI greater than 30) or overweight (a BMI greater than 25) has been rising in the past decade. Data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that 65 percent of U.S. adults ages 20-74 were overweight or obese. This is a substantial increase from the 56 percent estimated from the 1988-1994 NHANES and the 47 percent estimated from the 1976-1980 NHANES. (3)

The statistics presented for children are equally grim. The percentage of children defined as overweight (a BMI-for-age at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC Growth Charts) has also been increasing. Among children and teens ages 6-19, 16 percent (more than 9 million) are overweight according to the 1999-2000 NHANES data, triple the percentage reported in 1980. (4)

While numerous suggestions have been offered as possible solutions to the problem, an energy balance approach to the causes of overweight and obesity recognizes the equilibrium of food consumption and energy expenditure as being of key importance in maintaining a healthy body weight. This approach suggests that obesity and overweight are caused by eating too much, exercising too little, or some combination of the two. This article examines the input component of this balance by investigating household food expenditure patterns. The literature linking food consumption and obesity can be classified into three categories: (1) type of food intake, (2) amount of energy intake, and (3) location of food intake (where one eats). Published research has identified associations between obesity and a high level of consumption of artificial sweeteners, meat and meat products, high-fructose corn syrup, and soda. Obesity has also been found to be correlated with a low level of consumption of milk, dairy products, bread, and other cereal-based goods. (5) The amount of energy intake is found to be positively associated with BMI in controlled laboratory studies, although this association is found to be weak or nonexistent in population-based studies, possibly due to measurement issues. (6) The research has consistently shown that the frequency of eating food away from home is positively associated with obesity and percent of body fat. (7) Eating out more frequently is associated with a diet high in energy density, such as fat, and low in essential micronutrients and fiber, such as vegetables. (8) Food away from home, especially fast-food consumption, is linked to an increased intake of energy. (9)

Research on patterns of both food expenditures or food consumption has shown an upward trend in the consumption of refined carbohydrates and fats from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s. (10) Using U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Services' loss-adjusted annual per capita food supply series, researchers also have found that the average daily calorie consumption in the United States in 2000 was 12 percent, or roughly 300 calories, above the 1985 level. In addition, researchers have observed a trend toward consuming more food away from home, both in terms of the frequency and number of people eating out (11) and in terms of the percentage of total calories consumed as food away from home. (12) These trends in type of food intake, calories consumed, and location of food intake are consistent with the observed increases in rates of obesity.

Analyses of food intake patterns can provide insight regarding the possible causes of obesity. …

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