National Cancer Institute Home at the National Institutes of Health | www.cancer.gov

The Gap Between Food Intakes & the Pyramid Recommendations: Measurement & Food System Ramifications

Summary: This analysis of food consumption data and food supply data shows that significant differences exist between current dietary patterns and Food Guide Pyramid recommendations. Dietary shifts that would be required to meet Pyramid recommendations have significant implications for the agriculture and food marketing industries, both now and in the future.

Reference: McNamara PE, Ranney CK, Kantor LS, Krebs-Smith SM. The gap between food intakes and the Pyramid recommendations: measurement and food system ramifications. Food Policy 1999;24:117-33.

Current US dietary patterns diverge significantly from those recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fully adopting the Dietary Guidelines requires changes in many socio-cultural factors and individual behaviors. It also requires that sufficient quantities of healthful foods be available in the market. This paper reviews how Americans are eating compared to the Food Guide Pyramid (FGP) recommendations that embody the Dietary Guidelines, quantifies the discrepancies at the individual and aggregate food supply levels, and projects those gaps to the year 2020, based on Census Bureau populations projections.

To meet the FGP recommendations, individual Americans need to increase their consumption of fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat. Servings of vegetables are close to recommended levels, but individuals need to change the types of vegetables they eat, so that they eat fewer potatoes and more dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables and more dry beans and peas.

For the current population, the largest gaps between FGP recommendations and the aggregate food supply are in fruits, milk, and meat. More than 1½ times the fruit supply level would be needed to meet FGP recommendations, low-fat dairy supplies would need to increase by 50% and lean meat supplies by 15%. To meet FGP recommendations, the composition of available vegetables would need to change dramatically: supplies of dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables and dry beans and peas would need to triple; supplies of white potatoes and other starchy vegetables would need to be cut in half; and the supply of other vegetables would need to decrease by a quarter. Supplies of caloric sweeteners would need to decrease by more than 50%, or by 21 billion pounds, and added fat supplies would need to decrease by 3 billion pounds.

Looking into the future, projected population growth between now and 2020 means that supplies of those commodities that individuals need to eat more of -- dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables, dry beans and peas, low-fat dairy, and lean meat -- will need to increase even more. At the same time, supplies of those they need to eat less of will not need to decrease as much. Even accounting for the growth in population, however, supplies of caloric sweeteners will still need to decrease by 17 billion pounds.

Learn more about the Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch's activities related to dietary assessment.

<< Previous Summary | Next Summary >>

Last Modified: 11 Apr 2014