April 1, 2013

The American grocery bill

chart showning how much Americans spent on food by category, as percentage of their income.

Americans spent 11.2% of their income1 on food in 2011, a decline of 5.8% since 1984. This nice chart by Businessweek describes the process and breaks the expense into categories. The Atlantic followed up with a piece of their own, expanding on the data. Here are some highlights:

  • The U.S. devotes less of its income to food than any other country—half as much as households in France and one-fourth of those in India.
  • Over the last century, Americans went from eating 90% of their food at home, to an almost even split between at-home and out-of-home prepared food.
  • Families used to spend more than 50 percent of income on eating and clothing. Now, the average household spends well under 20 percent.

This finally made me venture into a question I wondered about for a while now: How strong is the connection between cheap, fast food — brought to us courtesy of the industrial revolution — to our staggering health-care expenses? I’ve put together another chart2 from 2008 that compared spending on food in different countries and the corresponding cost of health care:

a chart describing the (possible) connection between food prices and health care costs

  1. annual, post-tax. ↩︎
  2. Source: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (via Stan Collender↩︎
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