Trends in food availability, 1909–2007

Neal D. Barnard


The increase in childhood obesity mainly reflects increased energy intake.

Data from 1909 to 2007 show increases in per capita availability of several product classes: added oils increased from 16.1 to 39.4 kg/y, meat increased from 56.3 to 91.2 kg/y, cheese increased from 1.7 to 14.9 kg/y, and frozen dairy products increased from 0.7 to 11.5 kg/y. From 1970 to 2007, per capita availability of sweeteners increased from 54.1 to 62.0 kg/y.

We conclude that the major contributors to increased energy intake over the last century are oils, shortening, meat, cheese, and rozen desserts, with more recent increases in added sweeteners, fruit, fruit juices, and vegetables. These changes may have nfluenced the prevalence of childhood obesity.

Meat consumption has risen more or less continuously since the end of World War II. Cheese and frozen dairy product consumption has also increased, with cheese availability rising sharply since 1970. People who eat meat regularly are heavier, as a group, than people who avoid meat.

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), which studied 37,875 generally health-conscious adults, similarly reported that vegans weighed the least (mean BMI: 22.5 for men, 22.0 for women) and meat eaters weighed the most (mean BMI: 24.4 for men, 23.5 for women), with BMIs of pesco-vegetarians and lactoovovegetarians in between these values.

Although flour and cereal product availability increased in the latter half of the 20th century, which contributed to a large increase in estimated energy availability, it remained far below the levels of the early 1900s.

Availability of carbonated beverages has increased by 57 L/y per capita since 1980, accompanied by a smaller increase in juice availability.

Availability of fruit, fruit juices, and vegetables has increased since data on these products became available around 1970. However, due to their low energy density, fruit and vegetables contribute little to overall energy intake.