Thursday, March 29, 2007

School Lunch and Obesity cost comparison

I have been vexed (hexed?) in my attempts to verify some of the secondary research numbers in my Taxing Burden of Obesity post, so I am trying to piece together my own research. Thanks for the comments from Ken who has helped me revisit the numbers. I need some more research to complete the comparison in that post. I need more work on nutrition costs beyond obesity numbers (e.g. heart disease).

For now, here are some facts from a 2005 USDA Food and Nutritions Service presentation entitled "School Meal Program Performance: What Do We Know?"(1):
  • 94,622 schools (grades K-12) participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
    • Over 90% of all public schools participate.
  • Almost 49 million students participate in NSLP.
    • 8.9 million participated in National School Breakfast Program (NSBP).
  • School cafeterias served 4.8 billion lunches.
  • Over 29 million lunches per day.
  • Over 9 million breakfasts per day.
  • The NSLP also provided 154 million afterschool snacks.
  • About half of all lunches and 3/4 of all breakfasts are served free.
  • The cost to USDA of providing lunches and snacks was $7.6 billion(2).
  • The cost for the NSBP was $1.9 billion(3).
If we take the numbers out a little further we can form a crude estimate of how much the NSLP costs per year: $155.10 per student who participated. For breakfasts, the cost per participant is $213.48. So, annual costs per child who actually eats school breakfast, lunch and/or snack is $368.58.

For comparison, according to the 2001 Surgeon General's " Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity": "
  • Approximately 300,000 U.S. deaths a year currently are associated with obesity and overweight (compared to more than 400,000 deaths a year associated with cigarette smoking). (4)
  • The total direct and indirect costs attributed to overweight and obesity amounted to $117 billion in the year 2000."(4)
  • 32.9% of our population is considered obese(5).
    • 32.9% = 860,182,371 Americans considered obese in 2000.
    • The 2000 U.S. population was 283 million (when cost determined)(6)
So this suggests we are spending $136 per person per year on obesity. This number does not directly include related health issues like heart disease and diabetes. More work to connect these costs will be the work of another post.

(1) Alberta C. Frost, "School Meal Program Performance: What Do We Know?", presentation, USDA, Dec. 15, 2005
(2) Newman & Ralston, "Profiles of Participants in the National School Lunch Program: Data From Two National Surveys", USDA ERS Economic Information Bulletin, Number 17, August 2006
; or USDA ERS website, " Child Nutrition Programs: National School Lunch Program", viewed March 29, 2007.
(3) USDA Food and Nutrition Services, School Breakfast Program Fact Sheet, viewed March 29, 2007.
(4) Office of the Surgeon General,
US Health and Human Services, " The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity", 2001, viewed March 29, 2007.
(5) Dept. of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention website " Overweight and Obesity: Home",
viewed march 29, 2007
(6) US Census,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Price of Fresh Fruits and Veggies

The USDA Economic Research Service released a report in 2004 called "How Much Do Americans Pay for Fruits and Vegetables?". From the executive summary:

"Among the 154 forms of fruits and vegetables we priced, more than half were estimated to cost 25 cents or less per serving. Consumers can meet the recommendations of three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables daily for 64 cents. Since this represented only 12 percent of daily food expenditures per person in 1999, consumers still had 88 percent of their food dollar left to purchase the other three food groups. Even low-income households still had 84 percent left.

" The study also found that after adjusting for waste and serving size, 63 percent of fruits and 57 percent of vegetables were least expensive in their fresh form. Even though fresh fruits and vegetables may be less expensive to eat than processed, for many fruits and vegetables the difference in price per serving between the least and most expensive versions was often less than 25 cents. For some, this price difference may be a small price to pay for the conveniences - such as longer shelf life, ease of preparation, and greater availability - associated with processed forms."

Source: Reed, Fraz√£o, Itskowitz, "How Much Do Americans Pay for Fruits and Vegetables?", USDA Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. (AIB790) 39 pp, July 2004

Fruit and Veggie Consumption Findings

FoodNavigator-USA's recent article, "Americans not eating enough veggies - study", discusses the findings of recent studies in to fruit and vegetable consumption.

One particular study, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, aggregated research from previous National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and covered 1988-2002. This Johns Hopkins/Welch study concludes that "Despite campaigns and slogans, Americans have not increased their consumption, with 28 percent and 32 percent meeting USDA guidelines for fruits and vegetables, respectively, and less than 11 percent meeting the current USDA guidelines for both fruits and vegetables."(1)

Other factoids from this study(2):
  • Approximately 62% did not consume any whole fruit servings
  • 75% did not consume any fruit juice servings; about half of the participants reported no whole fruit and no fruit juice servings.
  • Approximately 25% of participants reported eating no daily vegetable servings.
  • About half of participants reported consuming at least one serving of garden vegetables.
  • About 28% met vegetable guidelines when fried potatoes were excluded as a vegetable.
  • Roughly 12% consumed at least one serving of legumes.
  • Roughly 14% reported no daily vegetable and no daily fruit servings.
  • After adjusting for age, gender, and ethnicity, mean energy and fiber intakes were higher for those consuming more fruits and vegetables.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks were less likely to meet fruit and vegetable guidelines than non-Hispanic whites (7% vs 11%).
  • "With two thirds of the US adult population overweight or obese, the implications of a diet low in fruits and vegetables are extensive…New strategies, in addition to the 5-A-Day Campaign, are necessary to help Americans make desirable behavioral changes to consume a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables."(3)

(1) FoodNavigator-USA, "Americans not eating enough veggies - study", March 19, 2007,
(2) Casagrande, Wang, Anderson, Gary, "Have Americans Increased Their Fruit and Vegetable Intake? The Trends Between 1988 and 2002", American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 32, Issue 4 , April 2007, Pages 257-263
(3) Ibid.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Carbon Footprint of a Bag of Potato Chips

Across the pond in the UK, the dinosaur in our food is being uncovered. Working with an emerging program from the Carbon Trust to develop a label for carbon in products, Walker Chips, a division of Pepsico, is researching the amount of carbon in a bag of their popular potato chips. While this work is prelminary, it shows the motivation, and business incentive, to track the energy and carbon use in our food.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

School Community Food Assessment Toolkit

Family Cook Productions has created a School Community Food Assessment Toolkit that can be downloaded from their website. The toolkit is comprised of two pdf files and a powerpoint presentation and addresses the challenges and offers solutions to implementing school wellness policies and receive buy-in from principals, teachers, PTA leaders and students. " By bringing a research-based framework and process to such efforts at school-wide changes in food," the toolkit hopes to show "that snacks, celebrations, fundraisers etc. are all opportunities to set examples and practice better behaviors in school when it comes to food. Such consensus building, while exciting with its potential, can also be challenging to achieve."

Climate Change Impact on Harvest Yields

A recent (Feb 2007) report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Dept. of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution investigated the impact that climate change has had on harvest yields for the world's main crops: wheat, maize, rice, soy, barley, sorghum ("Production of these crops accounts for over 40% of global cropland area, 55% of non-meat calories and over 70% of animal feed"(1)).

The short paper considered not only temperature and precipitation changes but also technological advances. While not all crops were impacted to the same amount (rice and soybeans less), they did come to the conclusion that "At the global scale, warming from 1981 to 2002 very likely offset some of the yield gains from technological advances, rising CO2 and other non-climatic factors." (2)

In other words, technology increased yields but climate change appears to have taken those gains away for some crops.

The question becomes: can agriculture technology continue to advance crop yields at the same rate it did during this period, or will the temperature and precipitation change faster than technology gains thereby decreasing overall yields at a time of increasing population?


Sources for (1) and (2): David B Lobell and Christopher B Field, "Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming," Environmental Research Letters, Volume 2, Number 1, January-March 2007,

Monday, March 12, 2007

So how much energy do we use to make ... energy?

I am working hard to nail down The Number that represents how many calories of fuel energy it takes to make one calorie of food. My previous post about dinosaurs in your food describes how this Number is on average 10 calories of fuel to make one calorie of food.

So where does this number come from? Below is a narrative followed by references to the researchers mentioned.

I accept the 10:1 ratio because I have read various data sets and combed numerous papers and studies related to this issue. Further research on this issue is needed, something I am pursuing every day, and I will revisit this ratio if needed.

The ratio is based off of a complex number of variables: amount of energy used in the food system, definition of food system used, amount of calories per person per day to be considered, the role of import and exports, and what percentage of total U.S. energy is used by the food system.

Pimentel and, separately, Hall have estimated the average to be 10:1, while Heller/Keoleian has estimated 7.3:1. Heller/Keoleian say that the food system consumes 10.2 quadrillion Btu's (quads) of energy and provides 1.4 quads back out, based off a diet of 3,800 calories per person per day (because we produce more food than we need, eat too much of it, and then throw some away). If we use a 2,500 calorie diet, we would get an 11:1 ratio; a 2,000 calorie diet means a 13.8:1 ratio.

On the side, grain-fed beef requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced (Horrigan), and a can of diet soda that provides maybe 1 calorie of energy needs 2,200 calories to produce (70% tied up in the aluminum can)(Heller/Keoleian).

I am still dissecting Heller/Keoleian's comprehensive paper. Heller/Keoleian estimates food energy use at 10% of total U.S. energy. Hendrickson studied 8 different studies from the 1970's and found an average for food system energy use to be 15.6%. This suggests we are already reducing energy use in ag. The Earth Policy Institute (EPI) created some nice graphs showing total U.S. and farm energy use base off the more current numbers. In one graph EPI show the whole U.S. food system uses 10.25 quads of energy (10,250 quadrillion Btu's) and ag production accounts for 21% of energy use, or 2.125 quads. What

What I take from this is this: if Heller/Keoleian are correct that ag uses 10% of energy, this number would roughly align with the 1.691 quad number, but if we use the 21% figure that comes from Heller/Keoleian, the amount of embedded energy (and therefore the calorie ratio) is much higher than Heller/Keoleian report. I am trying to get hold of the Heller/Keoleian team to ask them about these discrepancies.

In the meantime I accept 10:1 to be an average ratio I can support. I will keep resarching this issue and updating as needed. Thanks to Cookson Beecher, a reporter with the Capitol Press (Olympia, WA), for asking me to source this fact.


Heller and Keoleian's article "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System" is very comprehensive.

One article by Pimentel and Giampietro is "The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture".

Sustainable Table has a good article "Fossil Fuel and Energy Use" with strong references at the bottom.

Hall, C. A. S., C. J. Cleveland, and R. Kaufmann, "Energy and Resource Quality" Wiley Interscience, New York: 1986.

Heller, Martin C., and Gregory A. Keoleian, "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System", Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, 2000.

John Hendrickson, “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: A Summary of Existing Research and Analysis” Sustainable Farming, Vol. 7, No 4, 1997

Horrigan, Leo, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker. "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture." Environmental Health Perspectives 110, no. 5 (May 5, 2002)

David Pimentel and Mary Pimentel, "Energy Use in Fruit, Vegetable, and Forage Production", in "Food, Energy, and Society", ed. D. Pimentel, and M. Pimentel, revised edition. University Press of Colorado, Niwot, CO, 1996,
pp. 131-147.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Change in Added Sugar Consumption

Here are some graphs I made from the servings.xls spreadsheet at the USDA Economic Research Service website that show the growth of per capita (per person) consumption of added sugars between 1970 and 2004.

(1) Total added sugars includes all corn derived sweeteners plus edible syrups and honey, which showed up on the graph near zero so I did not include them.
(2) All corn sweeteners include High Fructose Corn Syrup, Glucose, Dextrose, and Corn Sweeteners.

Source for both: USDA/Economic Research Service 2006 data,

The Growth of Obesity Across the Country

We have been hearing that obesity is an epidemic across the nation. But what does an epidemic really look like?

The Center for Disease Control's web page Overweight and Obesity: Obesity Trends: U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2005 includes a powerful powerpoint presentation (or pdf) that illustrates the growth of Body Mass Index (BMI) across time.

For a quick snapshot, here are a couple of images that show what an epidemic looks like. Notice how in the year 2000 they added a new higher category, and in 2005 they added two more.

Source: "Overweight and Obesity: Obesity Trends: U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2005", U.S. Dept of Health and uman Services, Center for Disease Control,; viewed March 10, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

So What is a Quad?

(Didn't think I would need to know this, but then again I didn't know what I didn't know)

A Quad is a term for a quadrillion Btu's of energy use. 1,000,000,000,000,000 British thermal units. 1 QBtu equals the annual energy output of 40 1,000MW power plants (1).

So what does that have to do with the price of bread? I'm getting to that; but for now let's take a look at the post about Energy Use In Food. As the graphic shows from the year 2000, the US food system used 10.25 quadrillion Btus of energy. That's the same amount as the annual energy output of 410,000 1,000 MW power plants.

For comparison, a modern wind turbine is capable of generating 1-2 MW of energy. The entire installed wind energy capacity of the U.S. is 11,603 MW (2).

The total U.S. energy supply is 100.278 QBtu (3).

Now if we look at the energy use graph in the other post: this means the US food system use 10% of our energy output. Some articles have said 17% on average, but I am guessing that some of that research, being from the late 70's and early 80's (4), is outdated, and that the US energy supply growth has been faster than the growth of energy use in the food system. Still, 10% is a Big Number, and if we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we have to include reducing the amount of energy we use to grow the food we eat.

(1): Architecture 2030 website, "U.S. Energy Consumption, Greenhouse Gas Emissions"
(2): American Wind Energy Association (viewed Mar 9, 2007)
(3): Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Overview (2005)
(4): See John Hendrickson, " Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis," Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW-Madison

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Energy Use on the Farm

A previous post mentioned an Earth Policy Institute report that discussed the amount of oil in food. From that same article comes this graphic showing what type of energy is used on the farm.

Source: Earth Policy Institute, Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge - DATA, May 9, 2005

Energy Use in Food, Part 2

There is a good article entitled "Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge" by Danielle Murray
at the Earth Policy Institute. From the article and an accompanying page with wonderful graphs (and sources) comes this graphic that shows where energy is used in ag. It's numbers are similar
to a previous post on this issue.

Primary: M. Heller and G. Keoleian, Life-Cycle Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System, Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, 2000, p. 41
Secondary: Earth Policy Institute, Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge - DATA, May 9, 2005

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Agriculture Irrigation Volumes

Seventy percent of all fresh water use is for one purpose: agricultural irrigation.

Irrigation water is being depleted in many of the world’s grain producing regions:
China: Four-fifths of China’s grain production is dependent on irrigation water.
India: Three-fifths of India’s grain production is dependent on irrigation water.
United States: One-fifth of U.S. grain production is dependent on irrigation water.

Aquifers in some parts of China are dropping at the rate of 10 feet per year. Some farmers are now pumping from a depth of 1,000 feet.
Aquifers in some parts of India are dropping at the rate of 20 feet per year. Some farmers are now pumping from a depth of 3,000 feet.

The Ogallala Aquifer in some regions of the Southwest (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas) has water tables that have dropped more than 30 feet, causing some wells to go dry.

Source: Lester R. Brown, "Plan B 2.0", Earth Policy Institute

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How to Replace Vending Machine Fundraising

So got to thinking:
  • In 2005 WA state had 1,013,189 enrolled in public school (OSPI report card).
  • According to IATP's report on vending machine fundraising (see post), " School beverage contracts generate an average of $18 per student per year for schools and/or school districts."
  • Therefore, to get rid of the temptation to make money by selling our kid's soda pop at school is to increase the state education budget by roughly $18 million.
  • Could it really be that easy? Doubt it, but it's a doable number to propose.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Changes in Food Prices, 1985-2000

Nice graphic and quote from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

" Within the United States, the real cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen nearly 40 percent in the past 20 years. The real costs of soda pop, sweets and fats and oils, on the other hand, have gone down."

Source: Schoonover and Muller, " Food Without Thought: How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity," Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2006,

Food or Fuel?

As we begin to use more of our acreage to grow crops for fuel, many people are asking: food vs. fuel? That question is underlying a lot of research and debate these days. The Big Question concerns corn and ethanol. As we use more corn for fuel, does that mean less for food? If not, where will the corn come from? The USDA suggests it will come from diverting corn meant for export, but as the graph below shows, that has yet to happen.
Source: Economic Research Service Feed Grains Database, USDA ,

There is a lot of speculation about how much cropland will really be needed to meet the ethanol boom. For more info read the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy paper " Staying Home: How Ethanol will Change U.S. Corn Exports".

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Health Costs on the Federal Budget

Most of us have probably heard that obesity is a problem and raising the cost of healthcare in the U.S. Here is a chart from the USDA's Economic Research Service (2003) showing the growth of health costs as a percentage of the federal budget.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, " FoodReview: Weighing In on Obesity," Vol. 25, No. 3

School Vending Machine Contracts

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) studied vending machine contracts and found that they are not very efficient fundraisers. The attraction lies in the fact that the dollars gained are discretionary and can be used where they are most needed. "Though perceived as lucrative," said Margo Wootan, one of the studie's authors, " we found that school beverage contracts usually raise less than a quarter of one percent of school districts' budgets. That modest amount of money can be replaced"
From CSPI's report "Raw Deal: School Beverage Contracts Less Lucrative Than They Seem"
" School beverage contracts generate an average of $18 per student per year for schools and/or school districts... Revenue to schools/districts ranged from about $0.60 to $93 per student per year."

" The majority (67%, on average) of revenue generated from school beverage sales goes to beverage companies rather than to the schools, making beverage vending an inefficient way for schools to raise money. Children (and their parents) have to spend one dollar in order for their school to raise 33 cents. Alternatively, fundraisers in which schools sell products, such as gift wrap and candles, usually provide schools with profit margins of about 45%, though the revenue to the school is determined by the volume sold."

Source: Joy Johanson, Jason Smith, Margo G. Wootan, "Raw Deal: School Beverage Contracts Less Lucrative Than They Seem", Center for Science in the Public Interest,December 2006

Healthy vending machines can mean more money

According to USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “students will buy and consume healthful foods and beverages – and schools can make money from selling healthful options.” Their survey of 17 schools and school districts found that, after improving school foods, 12 schools and districts increased revenue and four reported no change.

Source: Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and U.S. Department of Education. FNS-374, " Making it Happen! School Nutrition Success Stories," Alexandria, VA, January 2005.