US diets improving? Study finds calorie intake declining despite economy, food prices

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

US diets improving? Study finds calorie intake declining despite economy, food prices
The past decade in the US has seen declining calorie intake and a leveling off of obesity rates, which a new study says may be due to a longer term shift in Americans’ dietary and health behavior, independent of recent economic turbulence.

The challenge in determining the cause of longer-term dietary shifts is that there were a number of significant events that could have affected food and beverage purchases and consumption choices in the past 10 years, such as the Great Recession (2007 to 2009), economic stagnation and continued food price hikes.

The researchers used nationally representative cross-sectional surveys on dietary intake (from the NHANES) and longitudinal household food purchase data along with random-effects models to control for unemployment levels, food prices at the market level and household characteristics.

Yet even after controlling for various socioeconomic factors, calories purchased from both CPG foods and beverages fell significantly from 2003 to 2011, particularly for households with children. Results also indicated shifts in caloric purchases were driven more by declines in caloric purchases from beverages than food. Moreover, the decline actually accelerated during the Great Recession period. 

“These results fit readily with the observed obesity trends and offer evidence that current and continued efforts by both the public and private sectors can further affect obesity levels," ​the authors wrote. "The leveling off of obesity relates to important caloric purchase and intake shifts and provided promise for additional changes if we systematically address ways to improve our food supply, purchase, and eating patterns.”

Indeed, a recent study​ by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Center found that working-age Americans are eating out less, using nutrition labels more and are eating better at home, with daily caloric intake between 2005 and 2010 down 78 calories per day.

The USDA credited these changes in part to improved consumer access to healthy choices across income categories—facilitated by programs ranging from the SuperTracker online meal planning tool to the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. But the reformulation efforts by major food and beverage companies were also recognized for contributing to improved consumer diets.


Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.072892

“Turning point for US diets? Recessionary effects or behavioral shifts in foods purchased and consumed”

Authors: Shu Wen Ng, Meghan M Slining, and Barry M Popkin

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