United States

Diet Trends In US: Who’s Eating Healthier And Who Isn’t?

A study shows a decline in unhealthy diets in the US from 1999 to 2020.

Diet Trends In US: Who’s Eating Healthier And Who Isn’t?
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It seems like Americans are making some healthier choices at the dinner table. According to research from Tufts University published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the number of people in the United States with unhealthy diets has dropped over the past 20 years. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Between 1999 and 2020, the percentage of adults with poor diets – those low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and high in processed meats, saturated fat, and sodium – fell from nearly 49% to about 36%. During the same period, the number of people with intermediate diets increased from 50% to 61%, and those with ideal diets went up slightly from 0.66% to 1.58%.

These changes were measured using the American Heart Association’s 2020 continuous diet score, which ranks diets on an 80-point scale based on healthy eating habits. Poor diets can lead to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

“While the study provides insights into Americans’ overall dietary habits, potential limitations should be considered when interpreting the results,” said Kelsey Costa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Dietitian Insights. She pointed out that the study relied on self-reported data, which can introduce errors, and did not specify cooking methods or the level of food processing for many items.

Interestingly, the study found that dietary improvements were more pronounced among certain groups. Well-educated, wealthier, and younger adults, as well as those with private health insurance, showed the most significant improvements.

For instance, people with the highest incomes saw a dramatic drop in poor diet rates, from 45% to 30%. Those with middle incomes saw a decrease from 50% to 43%, while the lowest income group only saw a slight improvement from 52% to 47%.

“The improvement in diet seemed to be proportional to the number of resources available to the person,” said Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California. “Barriers include education on proper diet and making healthy food affordable and accessible.”

Experts agree that systemic issues like education gaps and limited access to healthcare and nutritious foods need to be addressed. Costa highlighted the need for multi-faceted approaches, including policy changes to improve education, food security, and healthcare access for disadvantaged groups.

On an individual level, there are steps people can take to improve their diets, even on a budget. Costa suggests using free community resources or online platforms that teach how to stretch a food budget and make healthier meals with ingredients from local markets or food pantries.

Meal planning can also help stretch your dollar and make the most of your resources. “Starting by replacing one meal with a healthier alternative is a good start,” Dr. Ali advised. “Finding healthier alternatives to high-calorie snacks is another good step.”

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