Selected Intakes of Energy from Empty Calories, U.S. Population, 2001-04

This section provides information on population distributions of energy intakes from solid fats, alcoholic beverages and added sugars. These sources of energy comprise a major portion of the discretionary calories consumed by the U.S. population.

We have applied NCI's method of estimating usual intakes 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 usual intakes for a range of sex-age groups in the U.S. population.


Dietary data were obtained from the 2001-2004 NHANES. The data were collected via two 24-hour recalls. For the analysis of energy from solid fats, energy from added sugars, and energy from solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS), data from 17,310 persons 2 years of age and older were used. For the analysis of energy from solid fats, alcoholic beverages, and added sugars (SoFAAS), data from 17,889 persons 1 year of age and older were used. Further information regarding the design and methodology used in the 2001-04 NHANES is available from the CDC.

Intakes reported on the recalls were translated into quantities of solid fats, alcoholic beverages, and added sugars using the MyPyramid Equivalents Database (MPED) 1.0, which was developed for the 2001-02 survey, and MPED 2.0 which was developed for the 2003-04 survey. 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 nutrient intake distributions was used. The dietary constituents examined here are consumed daily by almost everyone; thus, amount-only models were used.

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 dietary constituent, 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. The method uses the survey sampling weights to adjust estimates for the complex sampling design and nonresponse.

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For each dietary constituent, the first table shows the mean, standard error of the mean, and percentiles of the distribution of intake for each percentage, by sex/age group. The second table provides percentile values and their standard errors.

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Selected Findings

There is no explicit recommendation for the percentage of calories coming from solid fats, alcohol and added sugars (SoFAAS). These sources of energy count against the discretionary calorie allowance, as do intakes in excess of the recommended amounts of any of the food groups. Discretionary calorie allowances in MyPyramid range from 171 to 512 calories per day, depending on the individual's sex, age and activity level, and are highest for very active individuals. (Note, however, that activity levels of most people in the US population fall short of even minimum recommendations.)

Seventy-five percent or more of the individuals in each subgroup consume more energy from SoFAAS than the maximum discretionary calorie allowance for their sex/age subgroup. Recall that intakes of other food groups in excess of recommendations also count against the discretionary calorie allowance. Therefore, excessive intakes of discretionary calories are of concern for most individuals in all sex-age groups.

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The following individuals represent the team who developed the NCI Method and produced this analysis:

  • Susan M. Krebs-Smith1
  • Douglas Midthune1
  • Patricia M. Guenther2
  • Dennis W. Buckman3
  • Raymond J. Carroll4
  • Laurence S. Freedman5
  • Victor Kipnis1
  • 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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Suggested Citation

Suggested citation for information contained on this page:

Selected Intakes of Energy from Empty Calories, U.S. Population, 2001-04. Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program website. National Cancer Institute. Updated April 20, 2018. Accessed April 21, 2019.

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