About 12 per cent of people in the US are responsible for half of the country’s beef consumption.
Diego Rose at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana and his colleagues analysed data from 10,248 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2015 and 2018. This annual study is demographically representative of the US adult population, and asks participants to recall what they ate in the past 24 hours.
Rose and his team used this information to calculate how much beef people ate on a given day. They found that 45 per cent of participants ate none, whereas about 12 per cent ate more than four ounces per 2200 calories a day. These heavy beef eaters accounted for about half of the country’s beef consumption on a given day.
US dietary guidelines recommend eating only four ounces of meat daily – about the equivalent of a steak the size of a deck of cards. “To get all of that just from beef is an environmentally extravagant way to eat meat [for] your nutritional needs,” says Rose. Beef is a significant source of global greenhouse gas emissions: Its carbon footprint is eight times that of chicken’s and five times that of pork’s.
Middle-aged adults and people who identified as white or Hispanic were also more likely to consume disproportionate amounts of beef. And men were 1.5 times as likely to fall into this category compared with women. Meanwhile, college graduates were less likely than those who had a lower level of education to do so.
This may be for a few reasons, says Rose. For instance, men might view eating beef as a sign of masculinity, he says. Younger folks also tend to care more about climate change and have higher rates of vegetarianism than other age groups.
High beef intake can be a health risk given red meat’s association with colorectal cancer and heart disease. These finding could help direct campaigns about reducing red meat consumption toward demographics with the highest intakes, he says.