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Interesting Numbers

How much sugar does the average American
consume in one year?

In Table 202 of its 2001 edition, the Statistical Abstract of the United States states that per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners (cane and beet sugars, honey, molasses, maple syrup, corn sweeteners, etc.) was 158.4 pounds in 1999. The breakdown was

This is up from 155.1 pounds in 1998, 149.8 pounds in 1995, 136.9 pounds in 1990, 123.0 pounds in 1980, 122.3 pounds in 1970, and 97.6 pounds in 1960.  The figure from 1970 is from Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures 1970-97, table 1; that from 1960 is from the Historical Statistics of the United States, Bicentennial Edition from Colonial Times to 1970 (page 331, volume 1).  The latter source counts cane and beet sugars only.  (Corn and other caloric sweeteners were not used as heavily in 1960.  They've since come into wider use as cheaper alternatives to cane and beet sugars.)  The 1999 total is just under 1/2 pound per capita per day.   In case you're wondering, most of it comes from processed foods.  Take a look at the labels and you'll be surprised at how many of our prepared foods contain added sugar or other caloric sweeteners.  It adds up.  Sometimes it is hidden.   Did you know that those fast-food french fries you love are coated with sugar to make them brown and crisp nicely when they hit the hot grease?

Perhaps the largest single source of sugar is soft drinks.  By my calculations there is just under one pound (actually .94 lb.) of refined sugar in each gallon of caloric soft drink (at 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12 ounce can).  In Table 204 of the 2001 Statistical Abstract, we find that per capita we consumed 39.1 gallons of caloric soft drinks in 1999.  That is about 25% of our per capita caloric sweetener consumption.   For those who are interested, we consumed an additional 11.7 gallons of non-calorically sweetened soft drinks per capita in 1999.  That makes a total of 50.8 gallons per year.  That was up from 46.3 gallons in 1990 and 35.1 gallons in 1980.   We now drink just over twice as much soda pop as milk (51 versus 24 gallons per capita).  In 1960 we drank just over 3 times as much milk as soda (37.9 versus 12.3 gallons per capita).  (Here is a table illustrating beverage consumption in the U.S. since 1960.)  For an interesting look at soft drinks in the U.S., read the highlights from the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Liquid Candy, a report on soft drinks and health.  They also provide clear information for kids.  Their information about sugar is quite interesting, as is their list of links to information about sugar.  Also see Hard Facts About Soft Drinks (The Washington Post, February 27, 2001).  Not surprisingly, the National Soft Drink Association disagrees about the health consequences of soft drink consumption.  A study they funded was reported on April 3, 2001.

For other ideas dealing with food, see What's That?! and What % of the Adult Population is Actually Overweight?.

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original web posting: Tuesday, December 15, 1998
last modified: Saturday, December 09, 2006