How Good Is Your Diet?

To start the New Year, here is recent research on how well people in the US are eating. It also reveals whether those who have a higher income eat better than those adults on a limited budget.

The Boston-New York study begins, “Unhealthful diet is a top contributor to chronic diseases, yet there are growing concerns about disparities in diet among US adults.” It examined 38,696 adults aged 20 or older across the country that included: 25,842 higher-income individuals, 6,162 SNAP participants (those on a limited budget in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and 6,692 who are not in the program but have a low income. Participants were 50-60% female, 70% Caucasian, and average age was 40-50. The information was collected for approximately one decade from 2004 to 2014. Diet scores were based on the American Heart Association 2020 Strategic Impact Goals for Diet. They tested 8 components:

      • fruits & vegetables
      • nuts, seeds & legumes
      • whole grains
      • fish
      • sugar-sweetened beverages
      • sodium
      • processed meats
      • saturated fat

    Researchers found that unhealthy eating among all three groups persisted, and some components of a healthful eating plan were even worse than 15 years ago when data was first collected.

    The results: Poor diet was found in 28.7% of high income adults, 38% of low income adults, and 53.5% of SNAP participants. Okay-but-not-great eating habits were found in 68.7% of those with a high income, 45.3% with a low income not on assistance, and 59.8% on assistance.

    But the most revealing stats showed that, based on the Heart Association’s ideal diet standards, only 2.6% of high income, 2.2% of those on a low income without government assistance, and 1.3% of those getting assistance had an ideally healthy diet to ward off disease. Disparities persisted for most healthful nutrients, and worsened for processed meats, added sugars, and too-few nuts and seeds (healthy fats). Interestingly, SNAP participants had less improvement in diet than those with the same budget restrictions that didn’t get assistance.


    (Fang Zhang, Liu J, Rehm CD, et al., “Trends and Disparities in Diet Quality Among US Adults…”, JAMA Netw Open. 2018 Jun;1(2). Tufts University, Boston, & Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York)


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