A new study has found that only about 12% of people in the U.S. consume more than half of the beef eaten in the country on any given day. According to the researchers, the highest consumption was more likely to occur with men or people aged 50 to 65.
The researchers used the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as the baseline. Theses latest guidelines suggest 4 ounces combined of meat, poultry, and eggs for people consuming 2,200 calories per day, so they reviewed people consuming more than this.
Researchers analyzed data collected by the CDC in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and focused on beef consumption, noting that the beef industry in particular had major environmental impacts. The beef industry produces up to 10 times more emissions than chicken and over 50 times more emissions than beans.
The survey collected information of what more than 10,000 adults ate within a 24-hour period. The researchers were surprised to find that so much beef consumption was coming from a small percentage of people.
“On one hand, if it’s only 12% accounting for half the beef consumption, you could make some big gains if you get those 12% on board,” Diego Rose, corresponding and senior author of the study and professor and nutrition program director at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. “On the other hand, those 12% may be most resistant to change.” Rose also noted that beef is high in saturated fat, which raises health concerns.
About one-third of beef consumption in a day came from steak, brisket, or other cuts of beef. Most of beef consumption came from what the researchers called mixed dishes, like burritos, burgers, or spaghetti with meat sauce.
With their findings, which were published in the journal Nutrients, the researchers hope to influence the 12% of people eating a disproportionate amount of beef to make switches to other, lower-emissions protein sources.
“If you’re getting a burrito, you could just as easily ask for chicken instead of beef,” said Amelia Willits-Smith, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Further, the study found that people below the age of 29, above the age of 66, or anyone who looked up the MyPlate method from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were least likely to eat disproportionate amounts of beef.
“This might indicate that exposure to dietary guidelines can be an effective tool in changing eating behaviors, but it could also be true that those who were aware of healthy or sustainable eating practices were also more likely to be aware of dietary guideline tools,” Willits-Smith said.
To conclude the study, the authors suggest that their findings should be used and expanded upon to encourage people in the U.S. to reduce beef consumption through campaigns and educational programs, ultimately to lessen the beef industry’s climate impacts.