Americans’ Diets Improve, But Disparities Persist, Study Finds

Americans' Diets Improve, But Disparities Persist, Study Finds | Healthcare 360 Magazine

[Source-Yahoo News Canada]

A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that Americans’ diets have improved modestly over the past two decades. Conducted by the Food is Medicine Institute at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the research examined dietary habits between 1999 and 2020. According to the findings, diet quality among U.S. adults has seen a slight uptick. However, the number of Americans with poor dietary habits remains alarmingly high.

Poor Americans’ diet is a significant health risk, contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. The Food and Drug Administration reports that over a million Americans die annually from diet-related illnesses. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and director of the Food is Medicine Institute, emphasized the importance of diet in overall health, stating, “What Americans eat is the single biggest driver of our health.”

Disparities in Diet and Health

Americans’ diet: The study also highlights persistent and worsening dietary disparities among vulnerable populations. Despite the general improvement, socioeconomic and geographical inequalities in diet quality have not diminished. An estimated $1.1 trillion in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity are attributed to poor diet and food insecurity, exacerbating health inequities based on income, education, location, race, and ethnicity.

Dr. Mozaffarian pointed out that wealthier individuals have better diet quality, reflecting broader societal inequities. He criticized the historical neglect of nutrition in health care policies and equity discussions, stressing that understanding and addressing these disparities is crucial. “We can’t fix the problem if we’re not paying attention to it,” he remarked, underscoring the need for greater awareness among doctors and policymakers about the impact of food choices on health.

Specific Dietary Trends and Data

The researchers utilized data from 10 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, covering dietary recalls from 51,703 adults. Participants reported their food and beverage consumption over the previous day, providing a comprehensive view of national dietary trends.

According to the American Heart Association diet score, there were notable improvements in dietary habits over the past 20 years. The percentage of adults with poor diet quality decreased from 48.8% to 36.7%, while those with intermediate diet quality increased from 50.6% to 61.1%. However, the proportion of adults with an ideal diet remained low, increasing only slightly from 0.66% to 1.58%.

Changes in dietary patterns included higher consumption of nuts, seeds, whole grains, poultry, cheese, and eggs, alongside reduced intake of refined grains, sugary drinks, fruit juice, and milk. Meanwhile, the overall consumption of fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, processed meat, potassium, and sodium remained relatively stable.

Dr. Mozaffarian emphasized the importance of addressing broader social determinants of health, such as nutrition security, housing, transportation, fair wages, and structural racism, to improve dietary quality among vulnerable populations. The Food is Medicine Institute’s mission is to integrate nourishing food-based therapies into health care, with coordinated efforts from communities, governments, and the private sector to make healthier eating more accessible for everyone.

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