American Diets Get Better, but Slowly

Overall, American children have begun to eat more healthy foods, and are taking steps to avoid empty calories.

It’s no secret that the American diet is among the worst in the world. Thanks to the high consumption of processed, artificial, and sugar-rich foods, obesity and diabetes rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed to dangerous heights. Add to that the sedentary lifestyle and availability of modern conveniences (like cars and TVs), and you have a recipe for serious health problems.

Thankfully, there have been steps taken to correct the poor quality of the American diet. First Lady Michelle Obama has implemented the Let’s Move! program to encourage American children to eat healthier and get more exercise. The US Government has adjusted national dietary guidelines to focus on the quality of food consumed as well as quantity.

All these efforts have paid off. According to a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2016, the quality of the American diet has improved steadily since 1999.

The study examined diet quality data gathered from over 38,000 American children, and measured according to the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010). The HEI tracks things like total fruit and veggie consumption, plant protein intake, consumption of legumes and whole grains, fatty acid intake, total protein foods, refined grains, empty calories, dairy products, and more.

The researchers found that the American diet improved from a 42.5 (a very low score) in 1999 to 50.9 (still a fairly low score) in 2012. Children have begun to eat more healthy foods, and are taking steps to avoid “empty calories” and the fact that sugar-loaded drinks are high on the list of “no-no foods” contributed to roughly 1/3 of the total dietary improvements.

The study also found that there is a disparity among the various demographics. Non-Hispanic whites had the highest quality diet, while non-Hispanic blacks had the lowest quality diet. All the demographics improved the quality of their diet, but some started off on a much lower footing.

The findings of the research has led to two conclusions: 1) the efforts to improve the quality of the American diet are paying off, and 2) the improvements are being made slowly. It’s up to policymakers to find more ways to encourage people to make healthier eating choices.

Parents should also take responsibility for their child’s eating habits—as well as their own—and encourage them to eat foods that offer high nutrition. Continuing to clean up our diets will only make us healthier in the long run!


1. Gu, Xiao and Tucker, Katherine L, “Dietary quality of the US child and adolescent population: trends from 1999 to 2012 and associations with the use of federal nutrition assistance programs“, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/?ajcn.116.135095, published 23 November 2016.