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  • Posted June 18, 2024

Average American's Diet Improved Only Slightly Over Past 20 Years

 The average American diet has only improved modestly over the past two decades, despite tons of research tying unhealthy food to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a new study finds.

The percentage of U.S. adults with a poor diet decreased from 49% to 37% between 1999 and 2020, based on data from a regular federal survey of American dietary patterns.

Americans with intermediate diet quality increased from 51% to 61% during the same period, showing some improvement. But the proportion of Americans with an ideal diet remained starkly low, rising only from 0.7% to 1.6%, researchers at Tufts University in Boston found.

“While we’ve seen some modest improvement in American diets in the last two decades, those improvements are not reaching everyone, and many Americans are eating worse,” said researcher Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and director of the university's Food is Medicine Institute.

“Our new research shows that the nation can’t achieve nutritional and health equity until we address the barriers many Americans face when it comes to accessing and eating nourishing food,” Mozaffarian added in a Tufts news release.

For the study, researchers analyzed federal diet survey data for more than 51,700 adults. Diet quality was measured using a scoresheet developed by the American Heart Association.

Results show people are eating more nuts and seeds, whole grains, poultry, cheese and eggs, researchers found.

There were notable improvements. For example, people ate less refined grains and drank fewer sugary beverages and fruit juices, results show.

However, intake of fruits and vegetables, fish and processed meat remained stable.

Gains in dietary quality were highest among young adults, women, Hispanic people and those with higher levels of education and income, researchers said.

For example, the proportion of adults with poor diet quality decreased from 52% to 47% among individuals with lower income, decreased from 50% to 43% among individuals with middle income and decreased from 46% to 30% among individuals with higher income.

“While some improvement, especially lower consumption of added sugar and fruit drinks, is encouraging to see, we still have a long way to go, especially for people from marginalized communities and backgrounds,” said lead researcher Junxiu Liu, who is now an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

More than 1 million Americans die every year from diet-related diseases, researchers said in background notes.

“We face a national nutrition crisis, with continuing climbing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes,” Mozaffarian said.

The new study was published June 17 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about healthy diet.

SOURCE: Tufts University, news release, June 17, 2024

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