If, at some point during the Sochi Winter Olympics, you said to yourself, “I’ve got to exercise more and eat healthier,” you’re in good company. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal , more and more Americans are turning to healthier eating habits. At least that’s the conclusion of a just-released study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was quoted in the WSJ article. That’s great news for a country fighting an ongoing battle with obesity. But will the healthy eating trend continue? Here’s a look at what the findings of the USDA study suggest.
First off, working-age adults are consuming fewer total calories per day. The USDA study found that the group consumed an average of 118 fewer daily calories in 2009-10 than they did four years earlier. These findings are said to concur with other studies of late. As to why daily calorie consumption has dropped, one reason given is that Americans claim to be eating more home-cooked meals and fewer meals in restaurants. According to the USDA, cutting back on meals at fast food places and restaurants accounts for 20 percent of the dietary improvement in those Americans surveyed. As for whether this was a conscious health choice, the study suggests that the sluggish economy has played a role.
As Harry Balzer, a food analyst with the market research firm NPD group stated in the article, “The good news is we’re getting healthier, the bad news is, we’re poorer.” As the economy continues to gain steam, it will be interesting to see if restaurant eating regains popularity.
One positive indicator that Americans are choosing to eat healthier is that they are becoming more educated about nutrition. According to the study, Americans are paying more attention to the nutritional labels on the foods they buy in grocery stores. As Jessica Todd, the USDA economist credited with writing the report put it, “an increase in consumer focus on nutrition in selecting foods, changes in the quality of foods available, and greater nutritional information available to consumers” has definitely influenced the trend toward consuming fewer and better calories.
Other factors mentioned in the article suggesting that the healthy eating trend in America will continue is the shift among restaurants to offer healthier fare, along with providing nutritional information to help people make more sensible dietary choices. In addition, more and more menus are posting calorie counts next to their selections, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act .
Technology also seems to be playing a role in getting Americans healthier. A number of smartphone apps are readily available to help consumers track calories and make healthier choices when eating out. One example mentioned in the WSJ article is a Weight Watcher’s app, which helped a 27 year-old high school science teacher in Lone Beach, CA lose 52 pounds in as many weeks. The app is said to aid weight loss by scanning the bar codes on food packages and calculating how many points they contain out of the daily Weight Watcher’s allotment.
As for just how significant the findings of the USDA study are, experts caution that obesity—with all of its associated health risks—is still a major problem in America. “These are not huge shifts, but they are positive ones,” Kelly Brownell, an obesity expert and dean of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy said in the WSJ article. “We still have huge problems with obesity-it’s just a smaller degree of terrible.”
Still, as the article indicates, experts acknowledge “a range of trends may be contributing to modest yet promising shifts in behavior, including greater public awareness and pressure on food manufacturers and the restaurant industry to produce more healthful offerings.”
As to just how significant the USDA’s findings are, most experts agree that it is open for debate. However, as restaurants and fast food chains become more proactive in offering healthier selections, and as nutritional information and smartphone apps help Americans to make better dietary choices, the trend toward healthier eating should continue to gain momentum for the foreseeable future.