Turkey Tally: Government Tracks Holiday Eating

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When Americans tuck into Thanksgiving dinner this week, health-conscious eaters won't be the only ones monitoring how much they eat.

The government will be watching as well.

Each year, the Census Bureau tabulates dozens of obscure facts related to 20 holidays and other observances, generating statistics on everything from how much turkey we eat to how many pumpkins are produced.

For example, most people probably didn't realize that a typical American eats 13.7 pounds of turkey and 4.7 pounds of sweet potatoes each year. Or that 256 million turkeys are being raised in America this year. Or that U.S. exports of cranberries and sweet potatoes help reduce the nation's trade deficit.

For Robert Bernstein, those are the nuggets that feed his imagination. Bernstein is a public affairs specialist at the Census Bureau, and for eight years he has been collecting and disseminating trivia related to holidays and other observances.

For St. Patrick's Day, Bernstein noted that Americans drink an average of 22 gallons of beer a year. For Halloween, he reported that we eat an average of 25 pounds of candy a year. And on Independence Day, he projected that Americans would consume 150 million hot dogs on the holiday, roughly one for every two people.

"It's amazing the breadth of information we have," Bernstein said. "We touch on so many aspects of the human condition."

The government collects the data to monitor everything from economic output to Americans' health habits, information used to shape public policies and develop private business strategies.

Bernstein culls the holiday information from a variety of government sources, relying, for example, on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for much of the data about Thanksgiving.

"We try to put out popular, kind of hip information," Bernstein said.

Perhaps, he said, it will give America's 297 million residents something to ponder as they gather Thursday in many of the country's 107 million homes