Are Americans Eating Less? Why?

The New York Times told us on Sunday that “Americans are finally eating less.”  Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University explains this headline by saying, “I think people are hearing the message, and diet is slowly improving.”

As  you might guess, the picture is not quite so clear and the reasons are not so simple.

The Times published a second story explaining that the picture is not completely clear because all three sources of data used to arrive at the conclusion — NHANES food diaries, Nielsen purchase audits, and USDA food production data — don’t actually measure what people eat. There’s a leap of faith involved in the headline, and the Times deserves credit for making that rather clear.

The second part of the story — “people are hearing the message” — deserves some scrutiny, too. Much of this data comes out from an analysis last year of results from the food industry’s Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation Pledge to reduce calories in the American food supply. A year ago, Mozaffarian was dismissive of these observations, calling them a “sham,” a “marketing ploy,” and “less than expected.”

Today, the same observations are easier for Mozaffarian to celebrate because they are positioned as a victory for public health messaging.

The truth is not tidy. As the Times reports, soda consumption really is declining and has been doing so for some time. Audited sales data makes that fact hard to ignore. But the larger trends — along with the credit or blame for them — are not as clear. Better understanding will come from long-term trends. Public health professionals deserve credit when they manage to nudge consumers toward healthier nutrition. So do professionals in the food industry.

“Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” — John F. Kennedy

Click here to read the story in the Times and here for their discussion of measuring food intake. Click here and here for commentaries on this data when it was first published a year ago.

Big Mac, photograph by Evan-Amos / Wikimedia
Mini Buffalo Burger, photograph © Tristan Tom / flickr

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July 27, 2015

One Response to “Are Americans Eating Less? Why?”

  1. July 27, 2015 at 7:02 am, elhamkia said:

    Interesting. …