Half of the USA’s beef is eaten by just 12% of the population, according to new research in the journal Nutrients.
The small group of beef-eaters, most likely men aged 50-65, have an outsized effect on the environment and population health, according to the researchers.
“We focused on beef because of its impact on the environment, and because it’s high in saturated fat, which is not good for your health,” says senior author Professor Diego Rose, nutrition program director at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, US.
The researchers drew on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Survey for their data.
This survey tracks the meals of more than 10,000 US adults for a day.
Meat, and beef specifically, has a much larger carbon footprint than other foods.
According to the United Nations, each kilogram of beef on the plate is responsible for 70 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. Every 100 g of protein from beef takes 35 kg of greenhouse gases to produce.
Rose says that the researchers were surprised to learn that such a small proportion of people consume half the beef in the US.
This group could be targeted by sustainability advocates to reduce their emissions, but the researchers aren’t sure if this would work.
“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,” says Rose.
“On the other hand, those 12% may be most resistant to change.”
Six of the top 10 sources of beef came from “mixed dishes” like burgers, pasta sauces, burritos and tacos. The researchers believe that these dishes could be a good focus for reducing beef intake.
“If you’re getting a burrito, you could just as easily ask for chicken instead of beef,” says lead author Dr Amelia Willits-Smith, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US.
People aged under 29 and over 66 were least likely to eat large portions of beef.
“There’s hope in the younger generation, because it’s their planet they’re going to inherit,” says Rose.
“I’ve seen in my classes that they’re interested in diet, how it impacts the environment, and what can they do about it.”