This Small Group of People Are Eating Half of America’s Beef

"If you're getting a burrito, you could just as easily ask for chicken instead of beef ... "

NEWSWEEK – Half of all the beef consumed in the United States is eaten by just 12 percent of the population, a new study has found. This impacts not only the health of these individuals but also the health of our planet.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans ate 30 billion pounds of beef as a nation in the year 2021, equating to nearly 60 pounds per person. However, excessive consumption of beef and red meat has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, heart disease and strokes.

Beef also has a particularly large carbon footprint, producing 8 to 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than chicken. This is largely due to the significant quantities of methane belched out by cows.

Because of this, many Americans are trying to eat less meat. A Gallup poll in September 2019 found that nearly one in four U.S. adults were cutting back on their meat consumption. But many of these people only contribute a very small amount to the nation’s overall beef consumption.


In a recent study, published in the journal Nutrients on August 30, researchers from Tulane University in Louisiana analyzed data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which tracked the meals of more than 10,000 adults over a 24-hour period. From this data, half of all the beef consumed was accounted for by just 12 percent of the participants.

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Those 12 percent were most likely to be men or people between the ages of 50 and 65.

What this means for sustainability and health messaging is unclear. “On one hand, if it’s only 12 percent accounting for half the beef consumption, you could make some big gains if you get those 12 percent on board,” study author Diego Rose said in a statement. “On the other hand, those 12 percent may be most resistant to change.”

Almost a third of the beef consumed on any given day came in the form of cuts such as steak or brisket. However, six of the top 10 sources were mixed dishes like burgers, burritos, tacos and spaghetti bolognese. One of the study’s co-authors, Amelia Willits-Smith, said that this provided an easy opportunity for cutting down on beef consumption.

“If you’re getting a burrito, you could just as easily ask for chicken instead of beef,” Willits-Smith said …


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