What are Americans Eating, and Who Needs Help to Secure Food?

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UC Davis Expert Leads Panel

This story written by Kathleen Holder, College of Letters and Science

Much of the information about food security and whether resources are getting to the right people is unknown. UC Davis faculty are working on that.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Economics Division should expand data holdings to step up its research on how and what Americans are eating, who struggles to put food on the table, and how well federal nutrition assistance programs are working, according to a panel of experts led by University of California, Davis, economist Marianne Bitler.

Bitler, a professor of economics in the College of Letters and Science, and other members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine panel outlined a blueprint for the next decade for the Food Economics Division of the USDA’s Economic Research Service — making recommendations on how to collect the best data that is comprehensive, accurate, accessible, timely and cost-effective.

Guidance Requested

  • Food safety and prices
  • Consumer food choices
  • Food programs such as SNAP (food stamps), WIC, and school breakfast and lunch programs


The panel’s report, “A Consumer Food Data System for 2030 and Beyond,” released in late February, represents a consensus among 13 economists, agricultural economists, sociologists, data scientists, statisticians and nutrition experts. Tim Beatty, a UC Davis professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, was also a panel member.

The 180-page report stresses the importance of the Food Economics Division’s research and data collection in informing policy decisions on nutrition assistance programs and understanding how Americans’ food choices influence their health costs, which in turn affect costs of government health programs.

“If we don’t collect data on them, then we don’t know what the food assistance programs did,” Bitler said in a recent interview. “It’s our money that funds the programs. To be responsible stewards of our money, we should know what the outcomes from the programs are.”

Read the full story here.

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