Following Dietary Guidance Need Not Cost More—but Many Americans Would Need To Re-Allocate Their Food Budgets
· Most Americans across all income levels consume poor diets.
· Behavior changes, such as preparing food at home instead of eating out, are associated with improvements in diet quality.
· To realize the much larger improvements in diet quality required to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many Americans would need to reallocate their food budgets, spending a larger share on fruits and vegetables and a lower share on protein foods and foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Every 5 years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with the latest release scheduled for the end of 2015. These guidelines discuss the components of a healthy diet, focusing on the types and amounts of food to feature in a healthy diet, and which foods to cut back on. The Dietary Guidelines are used by consumers, nutrition educators, and policymakers. For example, the Dietary Guidelines form the basis for the Federal Government’s MyPlate dietary advice and the nutrition standards for USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
The average American does a poor job of following Federal dietary guidance. Many Americans get too many calories from refined grains, solid fats, and added sugars, and do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nutrition guidance recommends that a 2,000-calorie diet include 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, and a minimum of 3 ounces of whole grains. Instead, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) finds American adults consuming about 1 cup of fruit, 1.6 cups of vegetables, and 0.8 ounces of whole grains each day. Cost has been raised as a possible barrier to a healthy diet. However, both healthy and less-healthy diets are available at low and high cost, suggesting that cost is not the only, or even the most important, barrier.
Food cost is only one of many factors that consumers consider when making decisions about the foods they eat. Taste, familiarity with specific foods, how much time a consumer has to prepare a food or a meal, the skills required to prepare the food, and how hungry a consumer feels all play a role.
A consumer’s preference for eating a healthy diet also matters. Consumers who value health will seek out healthy foods that fit their budget and time constraints. However, consumers who do not put a high priority on eating healthy and believe that a healthier diet costs more than their current diet, may choose to continue with their current diet rather than spend the time and effort in seeking out healthy foods they can afford.