Alarming Truths About America’s Eating Patterns

Sixty percent of U.S. adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases. Consider these startling facts:

  • About 74 percent of adults are either overweight or obese.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.
  • More than a quarter of all Americans are considered prediabetic, and 90 percent of Americans that are diabetic are overweight or obese.
  • Colorectal cancer in men and breast cancer in women are among the most common types of cancer that can be influenced by diet. More than 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated these conditions with health experts consistently warning those with these diseases that they are at an increased risk of severe illness from the virus.

What is the linking factor among this cadre of chronic diseases? A healthy dietary pattern – which can be a powerful weapon to help fight them off. Despite compounding scientific evidence on the important role that nutrition plays in the development of chronic diseases, what Americans could be consuming to keep them healthy isn’t aligning with what they’re actually eating. According to the new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating patterns in the U.S. are far below the Guidelines’ recommendations. The most recent Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures the country’s adherence to the Guidelines, was 59 out of 100, the latter number meaning the recommendations have been met or exceeded. While average diet quality has improved slightly over the years, the index scores have remained fairly constant since HEI’s development in 1995.

The HEI examines food intake compared to the Guidelines’ recommendations on food group consumption and dietary limits (such as saturated fat) as well as other factors. The new Guidelines highlight how certain age groups, or life stages, have (or have not) met dietary guidance. Unfortunately, the most recent HEI-2015 underscores that no age groups are meeting the recommendations. The young (ages 2-4) and the elderly (ages 60+) have the highest index scores at 61 and 63 respectively, while age groups 9-13 (score: 52) and 14-18 (score: 51) have the lowest.

“While the science [pertaining to the Guidelines] gets stronger all the time, the Guidelines themselves don’t change all that drastically,” says Shelley Maniscalco, Nutrition On Demand’s founder. “With so many people in the know, it might seem intuitive, but people still aren’t adhering to [the Guidelines]. In my opinion, we need more in the way of behavioral science to help with adherence to the Guidelines.” 

While the new Guidelines offer strategies for improving dietary intake, help is available to interpret and individualize these strategies. Nutrition On Demand’s team is available for strategic consulting related to understanding and implementing recommendations found in the Guidelines. (Maniscalco and other members of the team were involved in the development and dissemination of previous editions of the Guidelines.)

Contact the Nutrition On Demand team to learn how they can help your organization align your work with our national nutrition policy.    

—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade working as a journalist/communications specialist. 

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