National Cancer Institute
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Risk Factor Monitoring & Methods
Cancer Control and Population Sciences
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Usual Dietary Intakes: Food Intakes, US Population, 2001-04

The NCI Method provides the capability, for the first time, to estimate the distribution of usual food intakes in the US population. This greatly enhances our ability to monitor diets relative to recommendations and to assess the scope of dietary deficiencies and excesses.

We have applied the NCI Method to data from two recent cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative sample, to estimate means and percentiles of the distributions of food intake for a range of sex-age groups in the US population.


Dietary data were obtained from the 2001-2004 NHANES. The data were collected via two 24-hour recalls from 17,889 persons 1 year of age and older. Further information regarding the design and methodology used in the 2001-04 NHANES is available on the CDC Web site.

Intakes reported on the recalls were translated into quantities from each of the food groups of interest using the MyPyramid Equivalents Database 1.0, which was developed for the 2001-02 survey. A nutritionist imputed values for 48 new foods reported in 2003-2004. This analysis does not account for the differences in data collection and processing procedures during the 2001-2004 time period.

The NCI Method of estimating usual dietary intake distributions was used. This method uses either a one- or two-part model, depending on whether the food in question is consumed daily by almost everyone. When a two-part model is used, the person-specific effects may be correlated. In this analysis, if less than 5% of the population had zero intakes of a food, an amount-only model was used. If more than 10% of the population had zero intakes of a food, a two-part model was used, and this model was correlated when applicable. If between 5% and 10% of the population had zero intakes of a food, both models were fit to the data, and the best-fitting model was selected; in most of these borderline cases, the two-part model fit best.

Dietary recalls tend to be different depending on whether they are the first or second report from an individual and whether the reported day was a weekday or weekend. In this analysis, means and percentiles of the intake distributions were modeled for each food, correcting for sequence and weekend/weekday effects and based on sex/age group. Analyses were conducted for the entire population and for numerous sex-age groups.

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Results from the NCI Method using 2001-2004 NHANES data are presented in the tables below. There are 36 tables that represent each of the main food groups and subgroups of MyPyramid, as well as several other food groups and dietary constituents of interest. These tables show the mean, standard error of the mean, and percentiles of the distribution of intake for each food group, by sex/age group. Additionally, each table has a corresponding Appendix table (denoted with an “A”) that provides percentile values (rounded) and their standard errors.

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Selected Findings

MyPyramid recommendations for each food group vary depending on a person’s energy requirement, which in turn is influenced by sex, age and activity level. The lower end of the range is generally for very young, inactive children, whereas the upper end is for very active teenage and young adult males.

  • MyPyramid recommendations for fruit intake range from 1 to 2.5 cups per day. Seventy-five percent of the population consumed less than 1.5 cups per day.
  • MyPyramid intake recommendations for dark green and orange vegetables and legumes, collectively, range from .3 to 1.3 cups per day. The usual intake at the 75th percentile was .35 cups per day, for the entire population and among most sex-age groups.
  • MyPyramid intake recommendations for whole grains range from 1.5 to 5 ounces per day. At the 95th percentile, the usual intake for the whole population and among most sex-age groups was less than 2 ounces per day.

MyPyramid does not provide specific intake recommendations for solid fat and added sugars per se, but rather a discretionary calorie allowance that can be used for solid fat, added sugars, alcoholic beverages or additional amounts of food groups above the recommended amounts. Considering all that it is to cover, this allowance is small, ranging from 132 kilocalories per day (for very young, inactive children) to 648 kilocalories per day (for very active teenage and young adult men).

  • Seventy-five percent of the US population had a usual intake of more than 33 gm of solid fat (297 kilocalories) per day and an equivalent percentage had a usual intake of more than 12 teaspoons of added sugars (192 kilocalories)per day .

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The following individuals represent the team who developed the NCI Method and produced this analysis:
  • Susan M. Krebs-Smith1
  • Patricia M. Guenther2
  • Dennis W. Buckman3
  • Raymond J. Carroll4
  • Laurence S. Freedman5
  • Victor Kipnis1
  • Douglas Midthune1
  • Amy F. Subar1
  • Janet A. Tooze6
  • Kevin W. Dodd1

1 National Cancer Institute.
2 USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
3 Information Management Services, Inc.
4 Texas A&M University.
5 Gertner Institute for Epidemiology.
6 Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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Last modified:
03 Dec 2008
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