The Horrible American Diet

We still eat dreadful food

Sep 3, 2014
Outside Magazine
Harvard School of Public Health healthy eating trans fats FDA diet trends

Americans Eat Horribly    Pamela Graham/flickr

A 12-year study of Americans' eating habits indicates that we're eating healthier—though still very poorly.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health gauged the eating habits of Americans between 1999 and 2010 using a survey of 29,124 adults ages 20 to 85. The scientists used the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010, which rates dietary quality on a scale of zero to 110 based on factors like the amount of vegetables and whole grains versus processed foods and trans fats. American adults averaged a score of 40 in 1999-2000 and improved to 47 points in 2009-2010. The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the researchers, the higher score is largely due to a significant decrease in the consumption of trans fats, likely brought about by public policy and nutrition education. As a story about the study in Time notes, in 2006 the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to include trans fats on nutrition labels.

The study also found disturbing disparities between the diets of rich and poor Americans. The results showed that people of higher socioeconomic status had healthier diets than those of lower socioeconomic status. That gap increased from 1999 to 2010. Frank Hu, one of the study's authors and co-director of the Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, stated that "declining diet quality over time may actually widen the gap between the poor and the rich," as reported in the Washington Post.

In an article published in National Geographic, Hu describes the study as a report card on the state of the American diet. "This has the good news that there has been some improvement in overall diet quality," he said, "but the report card still doesn't look very good."

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