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Study Finds Households in the United States Wastes Nearly a Third of the Food They Buy

Data analysed from 4,000 household in the U.S. showed that an average American household wastes 31.9 percent of the food they acquire, based on a study published on the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

American households waste, on average, almost a third of the food they acquire, according to economists, who say this wasted food has an estimated aggregate value of US$240 billion annually. Divided among the nearly 128.6 million U.S. households, this waste could be costing the average household about $1,866 per year.

This inefficiency in the food economy has implications for health, food security, food marketing and climate change, noted Edward Jaenicke, professor of agricultural economics, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.

“Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that 30 percent to 40 percent of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten — and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water and labour, are wasted as well,” Jaenicke said.

“But this study is the first to identify and analyse the level of food waste for individual households, which has been nearly impossible to estimate because comprehensive, current data on uneaten food at the household level do not exist.” He added.

To over this limitation the researchers adopted the methods used in the fields of production economics – which models the production function transforming inputs into outputs – and nutritional science, by which a person’s height, weight, gender and age can be used to calculate metabolic energy requirements to maintain body weight.

The data that was analysed were from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, known as FoodAPS. Food-acquisition data form this survey were treated as the “input”.

Biological measures were also collected by FoodAPS, which allowed researchers to apply formulas from nutritional science to determine basal metabolic rates and calculate the energy required for household members to maintain body weight, this would be the “output”.

The difference between the amount of food acquired and the amount needed to maintain body weight represents the production inefficiency in the model, which translates to uneaten and wasted food.

“Based on our estimation, the average American household wastes 31.9 percent of the food it acquires,” Jaenicke said. “More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20 percent and 50 percent. However, even the least wasteful household wastes 8.7 percent of the food it acquires.”

In addition, demographic data collected as part of the survey were used to analyse the differences in food waste among households with a variety of characteristics.

It was found that households with higher income generate more waste, these with healthier diets that include more perishable fruits and vegetables also have more food waste.

Household types associated with less food waste include those with greater food insecurity — especially those that participate in the federal SNAP food assistance program, previously known as “food stamps” — as well as those households with a larger number of members.

Other households that have lower levels of waste include those who use a shopping list when visiting the supermarket as well as those who must travel far to reach their grocery store.

Food waste generation can have both economic and nutritional implications, however reducing food waste could be a factor in minimizing the effects of climate change. The researchers pointed out that studies have shown that discarded food is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers hope that this study will provide comprehensive information on food-waste estimates at the household level to be generalized to a wide range of household groups. [APBN]