WASHINGTON — For decades, the federal government conducted national dietary surveys in order to track Americans’ food and nutrient intake and where Americans get their food. However, technological differences in the methods of conducting these surveys made long-term analysis of trends difficult.
Federal dietary surveys conducted from 1977-2012 asked whether or not food was eaten at home and where the food was acquired. The food source coding changed over time, but for the most part the sources remained consistent, including: at-home food (supermarkets, small grocery stores, or other retailers) or food-away-from-home (FAFH). Subcategories of FAFH include full-service restaurants with wait staff, fast-food establishments without wait staff, school or day care meals, and a catchall “other” subcategory including vending machines and other miscellaneous sources. This consistency in the classification of food sources has allowed researchers to link the surveys and more accurately look at eating trends, according to a June 6 article on Amber Waves, an online publication of the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture.
Researchers at the ERS and the Univ. of Georgia recoded the food sources of the dietary surveys between 1977 and 2012 to be consistent. By linking the surveys and providing consistent FAFH definitions, the researchers were able to consolidate the data and analyze the changing long-term trends of where consumers of different ages and income-levels acquire their foods. The results of the analysis may help improve targeting subpopulations that require greater nutrition education and policy focus.