DEAR DR. ATKINS
People don't stick to diets: never
have, never will
At its peak in 2004 low-carbo-hydrate diets such as Atkins and others had an estimated 135 million adherents in the U.S. alone, well over half the adult population. The Canadian proportion was probably similar and these diets were also popular in Europe. They were based on the concept that carbohydrate-rich foods were to be avoided in favor of high-protein foods, and that fat is not an important contributor to weight gain.
Basically because of these diets, flour consumption in the U.S. slid from 143 lbs. per capita in 2001 to 133 lbs. in 2004. Multiplied by the U.S. population averaging 290 million over the period, the trend had a massive, unexpected impact on flour milling and wheat demand. U.S. flour production dropped from 411 million cwt to 378 million last year. Part of the decline was due to reduced exports but then foods made with flour were not the only ones affected by the low-carb craze; there were similar trends in breakfast foods. Now the trend appears to be reversing. Flour grind for the latest quarter showed the first year-to-year gain in three years. Talk in baking trade circles is all about the startling turnaround in consumer buying patterns. However the impact on world wheat demand may be small because this is strictly a first-world issue.
Large-scale changes in dietary habits between grain-based carbohydrates and meat protein should have had a positive impact on per-capita meat demand, but the statistics do not show it. Red meat and chicken consumption changes have been well within historic ranges and have been related more to price and availability than consumer preference. Per-capita U.S. red meat consumption rose from 118 lbs. to 121 lbs. between 2001 and 2002, dropped back to 118 lbs. in 2003 and rose to 120 lbs. last year.
I found this interesting especially given the number of posts on this site that touted Atkins for the increase in beef demand. Was there a marked increase in beef demand? This article says no.