Americans Eating Healthier Smarter
January 17, 2014

USDA Says Americans Eating Smarter And Healthier

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new study from the United States Department of Agriculture found that adults across American are practicing healthier eating habits: informing themselves more about the food they eat, consuming fewer calories from fat and eating more fiber.

The study, which is based on three rounds of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that more Americans are now taking advantage of available nutrition information, particularly the Nutrition Facts Panel found on most food packaging. Moreover, 76 percent of working-age adults in the survey said that they would use nutrition information posted in restaurants if it were available.

"We are pleased to hear that this study finds improvements in several key areas of the American diet," said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. "FDA will soon propose an updated Nutrition Facts label designed to provide information that will make it even easier for people to make healthy choices."

The Great Recession appeared to have influenced food purchases as the study found between 2006 and 2009, spending on food dropped 5 percent, attributed to a 13 percent drop in spending on food outside the home (FAFH). This reduced level of spending had the effect of lowering calories consumed through FAFH by 127 calories per day. The typical survey respondent also ate three fewer meals and 1.5 fewer snacks per month outside the home.

Study author Jessica Todd, an economist with the USDA's Economic Research Service, told USA Today that the shift may be "a silver lining" of the recession that began in 2007, "because the recession likely left people with more time to choose healthier foods and to prepare more meals at home."

The USDA researchers also reported changing attitudes toward food and nutrition. The percentage of working-age adults who said they have the capability to change their body weight raised by three percentage points from 2007 to 2010. During the same time span, prices did not change how adults made decisions at the grocery store. However, working-age adults reported an increased emphasis on nutrition when filling up their shopping carts.

"When individuals believe that their actions directly affect their body weight, they might be more inclined to make healthier food choices," Todd said.

"It's definitely encouraging that this analysis finds calories are trending downward since that's exactly what we need to curb the epidemic of obesity," said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago dietitian in who was not directly involved in the report. "It's also great news that family meals are on the rise. A healthy family doesn't just eat nutritious foods, they also eat together around the table. We have more control over ingredient quality and portions when we cook at home,” said she added. “More home-cooked meals is one trend that I'd like to see go viral."

Another study based on NHANES data published this week found that that fast food isn’t the cause of childhood obesity. The researchers in that study said poor dietary habits that obese children learn at home are the main cause of their weight problems.