Trends in Dietary and Social Habits

Trends in Dietary and Social Habits

If this is your first visit please to Introduction or alternatively to the Index of All Posts.

This post will provide an overview of the various trends in dietary and social habits that are generally attributed to the rise in Obesity and Chronic Diseases (or Non-Communicable Diseases – NCDs). If you have not read the previous post about NCDs please go here.

In part 1 we will discuss a number of dietary/exercise habits. I will not provide any suggestions yet on these. We will cover these in more detail in future posts.

This is likely to be the last post where we will deal with as many figures/charts in any given post. As discussed in the past, there is a temptation to start giving solutions around diet and exercise without understanding the underlying causes (perhaps this may be one of the reasons why so many attempts at dieting fail..). So please stay with me.

My take on the current thinking among most people ( and as proferred by media, governments and official agencies, doctors, scientists etc.) on Obesity and NCDs is as follows:

  1. People eat too many calories
  2. People eat too much fat
  3. People are eating too much red meat
  4. People do not eat enough vegetables or fruit
  5. People are sedentary and don’t undertake enough physical activity or exercise
  6. Most of the middle income and upper income people do not exert themselves physically at work

Now let us examine the various trends and habits using some facts and figures keeping mind the above. Very good stats are available for the US (courtesy US Dept of Agriculture, Centre for Disease Control and other Departments). I also would rather pick one country and examine the trends than using worldwide data since increases in some countries can be masked by other countries.

It is quite possible that within the US, there are sections of population whose habits can be masked by average data as used here in this post. I doubt this is a significant issue given that 2 out of 3 people are either Overweight or Obese. There isn’t much room to hide.

1. People are eating too many Calories

Let us look at a chart from USDA

The above chart shows the Nutrient and Food components available per Capita not actual consumption.

The second chart shows calories per capita and there is a general increase from 2100 to 2550-2600 in the last 40 years.

Observation: There is a general upward trend in average food energy available as well as the food energy consumed. An increase of approx 400-500 Kcal can be observed over 40-50 years.

2. People eat too much fat and too much saturated fat

Let us look at a few charts from USDA

Observation: This shows that the “Total Fat” consumption has been pretty flat over the past 50 years with some minor ups and downs (same with Protein too). The consumption of Carbogydrates (including grains, sugar and sweeteners) has increased by 20% or so. On average US population seems to consume 500g or half a kilo of Carbs every day.

The second chart shows breakdown the “Total Fat” into constituent components

The next 2 charts shows various categories or types of fat consumed.


  • Consumption of Butter, Lard has decreased significantly
  • Consumption of a) Salad and Cooking oils and b) Shortening and c) Margarine has increased significantly (with margarine on downward trend again)
  • There has been a significant shift from Animal fats and oils to Vegetable oils
  • Consumption of “Saturated Fat” has decreased over the period and of “Mono” and “Poly” unsaturated fats have increased

Note: Shortenings are mostly hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated (including Trans Fats).

3. People eat too much Red Meat

Let us look at a chart showing consumption of Red Meat and Lean Meat (Chicken etc.)
Observation: This chart shows that Red Meat consumption has decreased and Lean Meat consumption (chicken) and Fish consumption (both of these are meant to be healthy per official guidelines) have increased.

4.. People do not eat enough vegetables or fruit

Let us look at a chart showing intake of Vegetables and Fruit

Observation: So contrary to popular belief, both Vegetable and Fruit intake in the US has been increasing on average (remember five a day !!)

5. People are sedentary and don’t undertake enough physical activity or exercise

Let us look at a chart showing percentage of people NOT undertaking any physical activity

There is also a lot of other evidence which shows that more people are undertaking leisure pursuits. The fitness industry is booming and approx 60 million US citizens are members of some form a fitness club/centre.

Observation: Average levels of physical activity have been increasing

6. Middle / upper income people do not exert themselves physically at work

Chart 1 shows the levels of Obesity by income group in Utah city in the US and Chart 2 shows the same for UK.


Obesity is as (or slightly more) common in the lower income group men and more common in lower group women who are supposed to undertake more physically demanding work on day to day basis.

7. Consumption of Sugar and Calorific Sweeteners

Observations: The above chart shows a 200% increase in the consumption of Calorific soft drinks in Gallons (which contributes to total calorific intake). In general, the intake of Cane and Beet sugar has come down and this has been offset by increase in HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup).

The average per capita consumption in the US of Sugar/Sweeteners is a massive 150 pounds per year.

Summary (US)

  1. There is an increase in total calories consumed in the US per person. This is most likely due to increase in consumption of Carbohydrates/Sweeteners and Cooking & Vegetable oils and not because of saturated fat consumption
  2. Consumption of Red Meat has decreased and Lean Meat and Fish (supposedly healthier alternatives) has increased
  3. Animal fat and saturated fat intake has decreased and total fat and protein consumption over the past 50 years has remained pretty much constant
  4. Fruit and Vegetable intake has increased
  5. Physical activity has increased
  6. Lower income people has more (slightly) Obesity than upper income people

I believe the above observations are contrary to popular beliefs in most instances. If the official dietary and associated guidelines are correct then Obesity and incidence of Chronic Diseases should be falling rapidly.

But we know that is not the truth. Despite all the above the Obesity levels are going through the roof and incidence of Chronic Diseases is increasing (see previous post)

Part 2 discusses a few more trends and habits

Go to Part 2



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