Are you ready for perhaps the least surprising newsbreak of the 21st century?
Well, here goes …
The “healthy” eating habits that were once a staple of American culture through the 70s and 80s have all but gone out the window.
Homemade meals, fresh fruits and veggies, and controlled portion sizes?
In their place:
- Fast food restaurants on every city block.
- Freezers full of frozen meals.
- Dietary supplements intended to “replace” a balanced diet (though not well).
So, how has the American diet adapted to the digital era with a generation that thrives on instant gratification? Brace yourself — we’re about to reveal some interesting statistics on healthy eating in America.
Table of Contents
Healthy Eating Statistics
- Only around 1 in 5 American adults eat the recommended amount of fruit each day.
- Similarly, about 1 in 3 American adults will eat the recommended amount of vegetables.
- Research suggests that as much as 9% of all Americans lack consistent or steady access to healthier foods.
- In 2013, a mere 57.7% of Americans ate five or more servings of vegetables daily at least four days a week.
- About 93% of people intend to eat healthy occasionally, while 63% of people want to adopt healthy eating habits most or all of the time.
- The average American will eat 1.7 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit per day.
Here’s the thing:
It’s not that Americans don’t know that fruits and vegetables are healthy — that’s something we learn about in health class every year during elementary school (and perhaps beyond).
So then, why do we struggle with such basic nutrition concepts?
Well, here are a few possible reasons:
- One pound of fruits like blackberries and raspberries might cost more than an entire pasta meal feeding a whole family.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables will start to go bad in a few days (if you don’t eat them in time, they essentially go to waste).
- Sugar, fatty, and salty foods can trigger a dopamine release comparable to cocaine (it’s more likely you’ll crave ice cream and a burger than green beans or a banana).
It also seems that we see fruits and vegetables as great additions to a diet … but only if you have your eyes set on shedding a few pounds.
Statistics on Unhealthy Eating
- The average American diet consists of about 31% more frozen or packaged foods than healthy fresh foods.
- Nearly 3% of all people have never followed a balanced diet, while 36% regularly ate healthy food in 2019.
- Around 4 in 5 Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
- Nearly all Americans (90%) consume a diet exceeding the recommended sodium intake.
- The dietary concerns in West Virginia are staggering — just 7.3% of West Virginians eat enough fruit, and 5.8% eat the recommended amount of vegetables.
America’s bad eating habits go much further than not getting enough fruits and vegetables each day — though that’s undoubtedly one of the biggest concerns that nutritionists have.
Two things play a massive role in developing poor nutrition: A need to save money and a lack of sufficient time to make homemade meals.
Think about it.
We live in a country where it’s cheaper to buy a family-sized bag of potato chips (full of calories) than to buy the fruits and veggies needed to make one fruit smoothie.
It’s not that Americans don’t want to eat healthier.
But if you’re among the 5.3 million households facing food insecurity and have the choice between feeding one child dinner or feeding an entire family for a week, there’s no question.
And not to mention, the last thing people want to do after getting home from a long day at work is to dedicate another hour (or more) to make a healthy, homemade stirfry.
Why make fresh food when you can pop a frozen meal in the microwave and eat in 3 minutes?
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What Americans Eat (And How They Feel About It)
- In the average year, Americans will eat 183.6 pounds of meat, 273 pounds of fruit, 415.4 pounds of vegetables, and 632 pounds of dairy.
- The average consumer buys into about 12 health and wellness claims via their diet, a rate that has only risen 20% in the last two years.
- About 73-86% of people would spend more money on food with characteristics that resonate with their health goals, up 15-20% since 2016.
What’s interesting about these statistics is how easily Americans buy into nutritional fads.
Terms like “fat-free,” “low sugar,” and “gluten-free” are enough to sway a person’s opinion on a food product and pay even more money out-of-pocket.
But there’s a problem.
As a country, we put far too much trust in these keywords and assume they’ll negate your diet’s other unhealthy areas (i.e., drinking fat-free milk, yet eating a burger for lunch).
Eating sugar-free ice cream won’t suddenly help you dodge type 2 diabetes, and eating organic meat doesn’t mean you won’t develop heart disease down the line.
The Benefits of Eating Healthy
- Of the reasons people adopt a healthy diet, 1 in 5 seek cardiovascular health benefits, 18% aim to lose weight, and 13% want to improve their energy levels.
- A mere 38% of people understand how to reach their health goals solely through their diets. Of the nutrients (and foods) prioritized, 10% are protein, 7% are vegetables, 5% are minerals and vitamins, and 4% are fruits.
- About 66% of those with unhealthy eating habits also show dwindling productivity while on the job.
- Studies show that about 75% of healthcare expenses can be attributed to chronic diseases related to diet.
The good news here is that many Americans understand the importance of a healthy diet and have health goals.
Whether or not they’re actively pursuing their ideal physique or nutritional foundation, at least they understand that what they’re currently eating isn’t the greatest.
To be straight-up: A healthy diet poses all-around health benefits:
- A potentially lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes
- More energy and possible mental health benefits
- Weight loss (or weight gain, if you’re shooting for muscle gains)
- A possibly longer life span
Next comes the effort to get from point A to point B.
Figure out your health goals, what changes you can make to get there, and then slowly make adjustments to your diet to turn your visions into a reality.
Well, that answer depends on who you ask. About 3 in 4 (75%) Americans will tell you that their diet is good, very good, or even excellent.
In a nation where 69% of the population is obese or overweight (36.5% and 32.5%, respectively), it’s hard to believe that people genuinely think they’re nailing it on the nutritional front.
That begs the question: Are Americans merely that dishonest with themselves about their health? Or do Americans generally have trouble grasping nutritional concepts?
The admission that you eat unhealthily may trigger a sense of shame. But then again, 70% of Americans think granola bars are healthy, and another 65% see health benefits in frozen yogurt.
Today, the average American will eat more than 3,600 calories a day — up 24% and 720 calories since 1961. That’s nearly double the 2,000-2,500 recommended daily intake.
Since 1961, the typical American diet now boasts:
100 more calories from meat
100 extra calories from sweeteners and sugar
50 additional calories from alcoholic beverages
413 more calories from vegetable oils
Had the caloric intake stemmed from a heightened intake of healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, perhaps diabetes and heart disease rates wouldn’t steadily be on the rise.
The greatest struggle of adopting a healthy, balanced diet is that Americans ardently believe the only benefit to be a good physique.
For some, the thought of slimming down for summertime or packing on mass in the gym is enough to load their diet up with fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
For others, shedding a few pounds isn’t worth cutting out their favorite foods.
The status of America’s health in the future is still up in the air.
But as long as healthy foods are overpriced or advertised as “quick fixes” to achieve a healthy physique (rather than, I don’t know, reducing your risk of heart disease), it certainly looks bleak.
Not to worry.
The best thing you can do is slowly add swap in healthier alternatives and opt for fresh food and ingredients whenever possible.
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