See How Much The American Diet Has Changed In the Last 20 Years — You’ll Be Surprised

One million Americans die every year from diet-related diseases.

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It’s no secret that many American adults have a poor diet. According to the Food and Drug Administration, one million Americans die every year from diet-related diseases. But a new study got into the nitty gritty of how our nation’s diet quality has changed over the past two decades, and how diet quality changes among communities and why.

The study, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine, looks at data from 10 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2020. In the survey, the participants — 51,703 of them —reported all the food and beverages they ate and drank in a 24-hour period.

The researchers —a team based at the Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University — measured diet quality using the American Heart Association’s diet score. They found that there were less adults with poor dietary quality over the two decades (48.8 percent to 36.7 percent). However the number of adults with intermediate diet quality increased from 50.6 percent to 61.1 percent. Only a small proportion of adults had an ideal diet.

Researchers found that improved diet could be attributed to specific factors, such as higher intakes of nuts/seeds, whole grains, poultry, cheese, and eggs. Better diet also included lower consumption of both refined grains and drinks with added sugar as well as less consumption of fruit juice and milk.

Overall, the researchers concluded that diet quality among U.S. adults improved modestly during the time period. However, these changes were not consistent across groups. Young adults, women, Hispanic adults, and people with higher levels of education, income, food security, and access to private health insurance had better diet quality. This demonstrates that there are still major diet disparities––ones that could be worsening–– in marginalized communities.

“While some improvement, especially lower consumption of added sugar and fruit drinks, is encouraging to see, we still have a long way to go, especially for people from marginalized communities and backgrounds,” Junxiu Liu, a postdoctoral scholar at the Friedman School at the time of the study and now assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a press release.

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