MATTHEW MEAD/Associated Press
MATTHEW MEAD/Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Most Americans are failing to follow the government’s dietary guidelines with more of their income being used to purchase fatty foods such as pizza and French fries at the expense of healthier fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
As the concern about the country’s ever-expanding waistline grows, the nutritional quality of the foods Americans pile on their plate at home has been thrust into the public spotlight. The latest report by the U.S. Agriculture Department found consumers have a long way to go to meet the government’s dietary guidelines, with very few households adhering to them when they visit their local supermarket.
“The results showed that overall, across America, there is a pretty poor degree of adherence to the dietary guidelines,” said Richard Volpe, an economist with USDA’s Economic Research Service who co-wrote the study. “All Americans, whether they are white, black, Asian or Hispanic, have a lot of work to do.”
The results found that while there are differences in following the government’s dietary recommendations by income, geography and race, the variations are very small compared to the overarching fact that people simply are not buying the foods they should be consuming.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children are considered obese. Since 1980, obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled. People defined as obese are more likely to have heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
In helping consumers meet the guidelines, the government breaks down each dollar the public spends on food and where it should go to meet these requirements. Shoppers fail to spend enough on all vegetables except for potatoes. The same outcome was found for whole fruits, where consumers spend less than 5 cents of every dollar compared with the recommended 17 cents.
At the same time, USDA researchers found 9.2 cents of every dollar went toward unsweetened frozen goods such as pizza and French fries, and about 6.7 cents was spent on packaged sweets like cookies and candy bars. Shoppers living in the Northeast and West typically bought healthier foods compared with residents living in the Midwest or the South.
The study did not determine why consumers make the food purchases they do, but in the case of residents living in the Midwest, for example, Volpe said their buying habits could be based partly on supply issues, such as what is available in their store or even the layout of the retail establishment, as well as what products consumers enjoy eating and therefore are more likely to buy.
Teresa Beach, a dietitian with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., said convenience and the challenge for a person in understanding how far produce will go toward feeding themselves and their family are largely responsible for the unhealthy buying habits that exist. She encourages clients to replace items they have at home, one by one, with a healthier product.
“If they are motivated to make those healthier changes it definitely can happen,” said Beach. “But for consumers in general, it’s an uphill battle.”
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