Strong opinions, weakly held

Fact checking the fast food infographic

I’ve seen a number of links to the Everything You Need to Know About Fast Food infographic, which is chock full of interesting statistics, not all of which I’m entirely sure are accurate. It lists the average caloric intake for Americans as 3,760 calories, but I am pretty sure that is impossible.

This statistic comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, but unfortunately the link is dead. Other sources report that the average caloric consumption for men in the US is around 2,618 calories for men and 1,877 calories for women — significantly less. A little back of the envelope math shows that the number cited in the infographic is impossible. The average height of men in the US is 5′ 9.5″ and the average weight is 191 pounds. The resting metabolic rate for 25 year old men of average height and weight is about 1900 calories. If you eat only 100 more calories a day than you expend, you’ll gain 10 pounds per year.

I’ve seen this number being repeated a lot, and I wanted to point out that there’s absolutely no way it’s correct. I haven’t seen the original source data, so maybe it’s a valid statistic that’s being misused, but in the context people are using it, it’s wrong.


  1. I wonder if it’s based on some sort of ‘food consumed’ quantity or measurement, where, given our general wastefulness wrt food, a lot of it is thrown away.

  2. That’s what I was thinking. We may produce and import that many calories per person per day, but they’re not actually getting eaten.

  3. RE:12 Apr 2010 Post

    This is the dead link revived: http://www.onlineschools.org/blog/everything-fast-food/fastfood.gif

    Sounds like the NEA hired A Gore who did his research at EAU.

  4. I noticed the sources are listed in microscopic type at the bottom of the graphic. They’re microscopic, making them hard to read. I used the Mac’s Universal Acccess tools just to zoom in. It’s also not clear which fact comes from which source, and I’m not sure they go in order.

  5. I’m sure that we’re not only talking about some un-consumed waste but also some metabolic inefficiency as well.

  6. Maybe it’s a drunk-walk with a left wall (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/gergen/november96/gould.htm) — you can get a whole lot fatter, but not much thinner. If people are generally either getting fatter every year (by more than 10 pounds) or not getting fatter but not getting much thinner either, the average could indeed point to an overall average weight gain higher than what you might expect.

  7. http://www.obesityinamerica.org/

    Is 3,700 calories that inconceivable?

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/foodreview/sep1999/frsept99a.pdf http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/FoodReview/DEC2002/frvol25i3a.pdf

    USDA figures “adjusted for waste and spoilage” put the pre-1997 per capita calorie consumption well over 3,500 daily.

    It seems that the FAO is reorganizing their website. Per country data used to be available through this lovely searchable database, broken down categorically.

    The data linked by the first poster is based on face-to-face interviews. It’s reasonable to wonder how many people under-reported their consumption when talking to another person face-to-face about their eating habits.

    Accuracy of basing national consumptive averages on

  8. Actually, the 3,800 calories number includes 1,100 calories a day of spoilage and plate waste. The PDF file with the information can be found here: http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf

    The amount of calories we consume is still pretty high–around 2,700 on average.

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