As many consumers strive to make healthier choices, researchers from Tufts University Health Science Campus did a round-up of American adults’ diet habits between 1999 and 2016.
In that time, the researchers learned that though there were many positive advances, there is still work to be done for many adults across the country.
“Although there are some encouraging signs that the American diet improved slightly over time, we are still a long way from getting an ‘A’ on this report card,” said researcher Fang Fang Zhang. “Our study tells us where we need to improve for the future. These findings also highlight the need for interventions to reduce socioeconomic differences in diet quality so that all Americans can experience the health benefits of an improved diet.”
Understanding the highs and lows
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers were able to collect and analyze responses from over 43,000 adults between 1999 and 2016.
The researchers determined overarching themes in adults’ diet habits over this time and noted some disparities between consumers of different ages and from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
While adults cut down their consumption of carbs overall -- including low-quality carbs -- those with higher incomes did so more successfully than those from lower-income households. The researchers say the former group reduced their low-quality carb intake by four percent, while the latter group saw a reduction of just two percent.
“Because low-quality carbs are associated with disease risk, taking in higher-quality carbs could mean better health for Americans in the future,” said researcher Zhilei Shan.
Additionally, fat intake was a problem area for all consumers. Diets went up in total fat intake over the course of the study, with saturated fat, which is associated with any number of health concerns, accounting for more than the daily recommended percentage of calories.
The researchers found that those below the poverty line, adults aged 50 and older, and those who didn’t have a high school degree saw no improvement in their diets in any way throughout the study, emphasizing the need, as Zhang recommended, for more widespread healthy-eating initiatives.