CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—A new database designed by researchers at the University of North Carolina will reveal what foods people are buying and eating to improve knowledge of national health trends, as reported by the Associated Press.

This “food map” can sort one product into its thousands of brands and variations, providing data on the exact ingredients and nutrients people consume. The database will also provide insight into how rapidly the market can change.

Shopper Choosing Produce In Grocery StoreUntil now, information on consumer purchases and how many calories people consume was only available through government data, which often lags behind with the rapidly changing food marketplace.

One product researchers investigated includes 2 % chocolate milk, which the government classifies as one food item. UNC researchers found thousands of 2% chocolate milk brands and averaged them out, revealing that chocolate milk has about 11 calories per cup more than the government thought.

Researchers are  gathering massive amounts of nutritional information to create a better picture of what Americans are eating.  Using this formula with various other items in the grocery store to uncover information that may help target better nutritional guidelines, push companies to cut down on certain ingredients and even help with disease research. Scientists are gathering caloric data for every packaged food on the shelves and comparing that to food sales in order to see how they work into Americans’ diets.  Professor Meghan Slining says the research will show how quickly manufacturers change ingredients in each product and how that changes nutrition.

Child Drinking Chocolate MilkThe project is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce the obesity rate.  Sixteen major food companies have pledged to reduce the number of calories they put on the market.  Once consumers become more aware of the calories they’re consuming we’ll probably see a lot more food companies follow suit.