USDA: Americans Are Eating Better, Reducing Calories

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Americans are making better food choices, improving their diets, and eating at home more, according to a new government report.

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Why is the nation reportedly eating better?

The recession.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that when the economy turned sour in 2007, Americans were forced to become frugal. They stopped dining out and began to cook more meals at home, according to the study “Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010″ (pdf).

At the same time, the Obama administration has also worked to inform Americans about making better food choices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

“We have made significant progress, but our work is not done,” Vilsack said in the release. “We will continue to invest in critical programs that expand the availability of healthy, safe, affordable food for all Americans.”

Researchers studied data gathered from adults who took part in the U.S. “National Health and Nutrition Examination” survey between 2005 and 2010 and determined that overall daily calorie intake fell by 78 calories per day during that period, according to the report released Jan. 16th by the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Declines were also seen in caloric intake from total fat, about 3 percent; saturated fat, just below 6 percent; and cholesterol intake, nearly 8 percent. Fiber intake, however, rose by 1.2 grams or 7.5 percent daily, the report shows.

Dining out less accounted for 20 percent of the improvement in the quality of adults’ diets. Calories consumed through foods eaten away from home fell by 127 calories per day. The average adult ate three fewer meals and 1.5 fewer snacks per month away from home, the study found.

Americans are arming themselves with more nutritional information, the study shows. Forty-two percent of working age adults and 57 percent of older adults reported using the Nutrition Facts Panel most or all of the time when making food choices. When asked about nutrition information in restaurants, 76 percent of working-age adults reported that they would use the information if it were available.

“We are pleased to hear that this study finds improvements in several key areas of the American diet,” Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in the release. “FDA will soon propose an updated Nutrition Facts label designed to provide information that will make it even easier for people to make healthy choices.”

Education has also been a contributing factor to the nation’s changing eating habits:

  • USDA’s MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate provide quick, easy reference tools to facilitate healthful eating on a budget for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, and communities. The site includes shopping strategies and meal-planning advice to help families serve more nutritious meals affordably through its 10-Tips Nutrition Series and the Thrifty Food Plan.
  • USDA’s SuperTracker, a free online planning and tracking tool, helps more than three million Americans improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity on a daily basis.
  • America’s students now have healthier and more nutritious school meals due to improved nutrition standards implemented as a result of the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The USDA recently announced Smart Snacks in Schools, which sets healthy guidelines for all foods and beverages sold in school to ensure that students will be offered only healthier food options during the school day.

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