Thursday, March 18, 2010

Food availability time-series data

The USDA’s Economic Research Service publishes and maintains food availability time-series data going back to the first years of the last century. Food availability is a fascinating piece of understanding obesity. We may not have many walkable communities, but the trends in food availability and consumption suggest that what we eat is likely more important than the neighborhoods where we eat it.

The charts above show the decreasing percentage of fresh fruits consumed at three periods over the past century. Not only has the total amount increased by 40 percent, but the amount of processed fruit increased from 12 percent of the total to about 50 percent. Certainly processing techniques have improved, but so has transportation. This makes transporting fresh fruits easier and cheaper, which should increase the amount of fresh fruit consumed. But these transportation improvements affect producers, too, making it easier to ship large quantities of raw foods and finished foods for minimal costs. So we end up with a wider variety of fruits available but also more processed foods.

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