USDA study shows improved American diet

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2014 - A report by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) shows working-age Americans are eating more home-cooked meals, less fast food and consuming fewer calories overall.

ERS researchers found that, in the period between 2005 and 2010, U.S. working-age adults consumed 78 fewer calories per day. They also ingested 127 fewer calories from food prepared outside the home, a decrease of almost 5 percent.  

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Those declines were linked to a number of improved eating behaviors. In survey responses, more adults reported using the Nutrition Facts Panel printed on food labels: About 34 percent reported using the facts in 2007-08, while 42 percent said the same in 2009-10.  

“These are encouraging findings,” Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon said during a media call. Though the report shows American eating habits still “fall short” of government recommendations, “this research today shows that we are beginning to see progress,” he said.

USDA officials linked the positive numbers to the Obama administration's policies. And they pointed to the department's revamped MyPlate symbol and its local food system-promoting Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program as drivers for the incremental changes documented in the report.

Sam Kass, executive director of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative and senior policy adviser for nutrition policy, credited “the collective efforts - not just Let's Move! and USDA [but of] leadership across the country” for the results.

But the report does not indicate a firm link between the administration's nutrition and agriculture policies and the incremental decrease in calories consumed. The data used for the study - pulled from three rounds of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey - came from a period ending in 2010, just two years into the Obama administration. And ERS researchers did not attempt to establish a link between new programs and the number of calories consumed by working-age Americans.

Still, lead researcher Jessica Todd was optimistic. Though she believes the decrease in consumption of food prepared away from home was directly linked to the recession - families with less money often cut back by cooking their own food - she thinks Americans' new focus on nutrition will not recede.

“Because consumers are focusing on nutrition information more, I don't think that (food) quality will rebound or become worse,” she said, citing new restaurant labeling guidelines as signs of permanent progress. “That is my hypothesis.”

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