Yes, we have no banana data; USDA diet study lacking in specifics - The Packer

Yes, we have no banana data; USDA diet study lacking in specifics

01/16/2014 12:53:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstYes we have no bananas”  was a Number One hit from the 1920s, a catchy tune that apparently puts a positive spin on the dearth of bananas offered by the produce seller.

 To refresh your “memory,” here are the lyrics:

“Yes, we have no bananas

We have-a no bananas today

We’ve string beans, and onions

Cabashes, and scallions,

And all sorts of fruit and say

We have an old fashioned tomato

A Long Island potato But yes, we have no bananas

We have no bananas today”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had their “no bananas” moment for me today. I had dialed in to a teleconference on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report on “Changes in Eating Patters and Diet Quality Among Working Age Adults, 2005-2010” 

The study found that, on average, that daily caloric intake declind by 118 calories (about 5%) between 2005-06 and 2009-10 among working age adults. Tucked within that time period, of course, was the “Great Recession" of 2007-09. How did consumers adjust their diet and their food budget with less income to spend?

Interestingly, the study found food away from home intake fell by 127 calories per day, and the share of calories from food away from home dipped by 4.75%, from 34.7% in 2005-06. Likewise, daily fast food calories fell by 53, according to the study, and the share of calories from fast food declined from 1.8%, from 14.4% in 2005-06.

The study found that the quality of both at home food and away from home foods - in terms of saturated fat and fiber content - increased between 2005-06 and 2009-10. Using regression analysis, study author Jessica Todd said that bout 20% of the gains in diet quality over that time period were linked to declines in food away from home consumption.

So fewer fast food burgers and fries accounted for just a fifth of the diet improvement; what else was at play? The study suggested that individuals were taking more responsibility for their weight, greater awareness of nutrition during shopping, and perhaps greater attention to the Nutrition Facts Panel.

In a news release from the USDA, Administration officials were not bashful about claiming some of the credit, at least, for the evidence of improved diets for Americans, even if the data period would suggest minimal impact of White House programs like Let’s Move. From the release:

The study, released today, underscores the importance of robust efforts undertaken since 2009 to improve food choices and diet quality and ensure that all Americans have access to healthy food and science-based nutrition education and advice.

“The Obama Administration is working hard to empower the American public to make smart choices every day at school, at home and in their communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We have made significant progress, but our work is not done. We will continue to invest in critical programs that expand the availability of healthy, safe, affordable food for all Americans.”

If Americans were eating healthier after the recession, that is good. But will it last if the economy booms again?

The Obama Administration’s efforts to improve school nutrition are valuable to the industry, without a doubt.

But relative to this study, what was the specific data about fruit and vegetable consumption changes between 2005 and 2010?

When I asked the author of the study, economist Jessica Todd, whether the data included details on fruit and vegetable consumption, she indicated that yes indeed, there was no data on fruit and vegetable consumption during the time period but it was something she hoped to explore with future research.

That is not Todd’s fault. For all its good work on tracking nutrition choices, the lack of specific data on what actually is consumed by the nearly 50 million Americans on government food stamps is inexcusable.

While only one slice of the total picture, detailed and timely data on what Americans receiving food stamp benefits are purchasing (and where those benefits are redeemed) would help researchers like Todd provide a better picture of how consumer choices are changing over time and if the agency’s nutrition education efforts are effective.



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