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Most Americans eat like MyPlate for just a week a year

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 14-Dec-2011

The average American diet comes close to matching up with the USDA’s MyPlate icon just 2% of the time, according to a new report from the NPD Group.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its MyPlate icon earlier this year, replacing MyPyramid, which had long come in for criticism. MyPlate takes the form of a plate sliced into four colored wedges representing fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, with a small circle set beside the plate to represent dairy.

“Consumers will often say one thing and then do another,” NPD food and beverage industry analyst and report author Darren Seifer told FoodNavigator-USA. “For example, almost two-thirds of adults say they want to get more whole grains in their diets, but achievement falls well below that.”

Seifer looked at how often consumers achieved at least 70% of the USDA dietary guidelines recommendations for dairy, fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains. He found that for the average consumer, this was achieved on only 2% of days, or about seven days per year.

Seifer said this was not surprising, considering that the typical American dinner tends to contain a protein, a starch and a vegetable – but no dairy – and few Americans eat vegetables at breakfast.

“Clearly there is a need for consumers to change their eating behaviors,” he said. “With more than 65 percent of adults in NPD’s nationally representative consumer panel classified as either overweight or obese, the necessity behind change could not be more apparent.”

For those days when consumers did manage to emulate the guidelines, they were very likely to eat more than three meals a day, he found – and consumers who ate more than three times a day were also more likely to weigh less.

“Those that snack on healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables and yogurt also tend to have the lowest body mass index,” he said. “This is a correlation we found, not necessarily causation, but it is in line with what dietitians have been telling us.”

Seifer added that only time will tell whether the MyPlate icon helps Americans change their dietary patterns for the better.

“There’s certainly a need for guidance,” he said.

The market research organization has been tracking US dietary habits for more than 30 years as part of its National Eating Trends research, which examines two-week food diaries from a nationally representative sample of 5,000 households per year.

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