Young Peasant Eating an Apple

Everyone Else Eats a Crummy Diet

Objectively, the healthfulness of our diets is poor. This is true for youth and older adults alike. But more people than ever – 52 percent of U.S. adults – say they are following a healthy diet or eating pattern. Yet, new research from the Nutrition 2022 conference tells us that they vastly overestimate the healthfulness of their dietary patterns. In fact, only 15 percent of U.S. adults accurately assess the the healthfulness of their eating patterns. Most of the others are overestimating how healthy they’re eating. Apparently, everyone else is eating a crummy diet. Not each me.

NHANES Data on Self-Reports and Self-Assessment

Jessica Thomson, Alicia Landry, and Tameka Walls conducted this research using NHANES data from 9,757 adults. Those adults provided 24-hour dietary recalls according to a standardized procedure for collecting dietary intake. From those self-reports, Thomson et al calculated healthy eating indices (HEI-2015) as a measure of how healthy these folks were eating. Those same subjects also reported their own assessments of how healthy their diets were. In their own estimates, 71 percent said the healthfulness of their diet was good to excellent. Only six percent said they had a poor diet.

But in reality, 70 percent got a grade of F for their diet quality. Barely more than 12 percent scored a C or better. This mismatch is rather astounding. It’s even more stark when you consider that the “measured” diet quality is based on self-reports. In other words, what people say they remember eating. People might be a little bit better at remembering the good stuff they eat. So the grading might be on a curve.

We’re Doomed?

Nonetheless, we don’t take this to mean that we’re all doomed. Yes, there’s little doubt about the room for improvement in the quality of American diets. But the real lesson here is about humility. Rather than sneering at what others are eating, it’s a safe bet that we need to face up to the quality of what we ourselves are eating. And maybe find ways to make incremental improvements we will actually enjoy.

Food for thought.

Click here for the abstract of this research, then here, here, and here for further reporting.

Young Peasant Eating an Apple, painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir / WikiArt

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June 17, 2022