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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about the U.S. Food Supply

  1. What is the U.S. Food Supply?

  2. What Role does the U.S. Food Supply have in Nutrition Monitoring?

  3. How does the U.S. Food Supply Relate to Federal Dietary Guidance?

  4. Does the U.S. Food Supply Reflect Changes made by the Food Industry?

  5. Does the U.S. Food Supply Account for Technical Changes and Marketing Practices changes over time?

  6. Are U.S. Food Supply Nutrient Estimates Comparable to Nutrient Estimates on FAO Food Balance Sheets?

  7. How are U.S. Food Supply Nutrient Estimates Calculated?

  8. What is the Source of Food Composition Data used in the U.S. Food Supply?

  9. What are the Limitations of the U.S. Food Supply?

  10. How does the U.S. Food Supply Series Differ from the USDA Dietary Survey?
  1. What is the U.S. Food Supply?

    A. The U.S. Food Supply is a historical data series, beginning with 1909, on the amounts of nutrients per capita per day in food available for consumption. Per capita estimates are made for energy and the energy--yielding nutrients-protein, carbohydrate, and fat--as well as for total saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, cholesterol, dietary fiber, 10 vitamins, and 9 minerals.

  2. What Role does the U.S. Food Supply have in Nutrition Monitoring?

    A. Food supply per capita nutrient estimates play a key role in nutrient monitoring activities. They are needed to monitor the potential of the food supply to meet the nutritional needs of the U.S. population, as well as to examine historical trends, and to evaluate changes in the American diet. These estimates provide unique and essential information on the amount of food and nutrients available for human consumption in the United States. The U.S. food supply series is one of the five major components of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Program (NNMRRP) established by the National Nutrition and Related Research act of 1990.


  3. How does the U.S. Food Supply Relate to Federal Dietary Guidance?

    A. In support of Federal dietary guidance food supply nutrient data are important to agriculture and nutrition policymakers for translating nutrient goals for Americans into goals for food production and supply levels. Over the years, a nutritionally adequate food supply has been linked to providing sufficient energy, macronutrients, and micronutrients to meet the nutritional needs of the U.S. population. To ensure that sufficient nutrients are available to the whole population, the nutrient levels in the food supply need to exceed recommended allowances because the estimates reflect the amount available before losses from trimming, cooking, plate waste, and spoilage. For more information consult our Related publications list.


  4. Does the U.S. Food Supply Reflect Changes made by the Food Industry?

    A. Food supply nutrient estimates reflect the food industry's response to Federal dietary guidance and consumer demand for lower fat and leaner products. Most recently, many of the production techniques and marketing changes made by the food industry have been responsive to and reflective of dietary recommendations for total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.


  5. Does the U.S. Food Supply Account for Technical Changes and Marketing Practices changes over time?

    A. Food supply nutrient data are useful in evaluating the effects of technological alterations and marketing changes on the food supply over time. Technological changes and improved marketing practices produce an even greater number and variety of foods, respond to consumer demand for convenient and healthful foods, and generally enhance the health benefits associated with the food supply. Alteration of the food supply may consist of the addition of nutrients or the removing of nutrients or dietary component. The addition of nutrients to foods through enrichment and fortification has been an effective way to maintain and improve the overall nutritional quality of the U.S. food supply.


  6. Are U.S. Food Supply Nutrient Estimates Comparable to Nutrient Estimates on FAO Food Balance Sheets?

    A. The U.S. food supply series continues to be the major source of U.S. dietary information with which international comparisons can be made. The methodologies used to estimate foods and nutrients available for consumption in the United States are similar to those used by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations for other countries. Both methodologies are based on the concept of food balance sheets, which include data on the supply and utilization of food. Thus, these data can be used to compare the U.S. diet with diets of other countries.


  7. How are U.S. Food Supply Nutrient Estimates Calculated?

    A. The nutrient content of the food supply is calculated using data on the amount of food available for consumption from USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) and information on the nutrient composition of foods from USDA's Agriculture Research Service (ARS). Estimates of per capita consumption for each commodity (in pounds per year) are multiplied by the amount of food energy and each of the nutrients and dietary components in the edible portion of the food. Results for each nutrient from all foods are totaled and converted to amount per capita per day.


  8. What is the Source of Food Composition Data used in the U.S. Food Supply?

    A. The food composition data used to estimate the nutrients available in the Food Supply are obtained from USDA's ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) and include: the Primary Nutrient Data Set (PDS), which contains approximately 3,000 foods and their nutrient profiles; the most current USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference; and food specialists who develop nutrient profiles for food supply unique items. Food composition values are based primarily on laboratory analysis. If laboratory values are not available, values are imputed from data for other forms of the same food or from data for similar foods.


  9. What are the Limitations of the U.S. Food Supply Data?

    A. The food supply is usually a residual that makes the supply-utilization commodity table balance. The disappearance method of calculation relegates to the food supply all residual uses for which data are not available, such as miscellaneous nonfood uses, stock changes at retail and consumer levels, and sampling and measurement errors in the estimation of other components of the balance sheet. For example, an increasing proportion of the total turkey supply (especially backs, necks and giblets) goes into pet foods. But it is currently included in food disappearance. Thus, this report probably over states turkey consumption.
    Food disappearance is often used as a proxy to estimate human consumption. Used in this manner, the food supply usually provides an upper bound on the amount of food available for consumption. Food disappearance estimates can overstate actual consumption because they include spoilage and waste accumulated through the marking system and in the home.
    The food disappearance series is becoming a less reliable indicator of change over time in ingestion of food fats and oils. While food disappearance reflects trends in fats and oils sold for human food, it probably does not accurately measure food eaten because the waste portion of fats and oils has increased during the past two decades with the growth in away from-home eating places, especially fast-food places. Food services establishments that deep-fry foods can generate significant amounts of waste grease, referred to as restaurant grease.
    U.S. Food Supply data do not reflect good data for final processed products, such as salad dressing or bakery products.


  10. How does the U.S. Food Supply Series Differ from USDA's Dietary Survey?

    A. Food supply data measure food and nutrient availability as national totals, whereas dietary survey data (such as USDA's Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals) provide data on food and nutrient intakes reported by individuals and households. Also, dietary food intake survey record food intake data over specific time period and combine it with demographic information. These data are used to assess food consumption behavior and the nutritional content of diets for policy implications relating to food production and marketing, food safety, food assistance, and nutrition education. Food supply data best serve the purpose of trend analysis of food and nutrient consumption over time.