JUN 22, 2016 7:35 AM PDT

Growing Dietary Health Gap Between Poor and Rich Americans

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet

Researchers have identified an increase of healthy dietary habits between 1999 and 2012. The data, however, also showed a growing dietary divide between low-income and high-income Americans. 

Inadequate diets are one of the leading causes of poor health. They contribute to problems of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and diet-related cancers. Bad eating habits account for an estimated 650,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. 

The researchers examined 7 cycles between 1999 and 2012 of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The cycles included 33,932 U.S. adults aged 20 and over. 

They found that the American diet has generally improved. The improvements include "higher intakes of whole grains, nuts/seeds, whole fruits, and yogurt; [and decreased intakes in] sugary drinks, white potatoes, and refined grains,” said epidemiologist and lead-author Dariush Mozaffarian to LabRoots.com. "The overall diet is still far from optimal - less than one-third of American adults meet guideline targets for most foods. Intakes of total fruits or vegetables did not increase and intakes of processed meats and sodium were largely unchanged.” 

The data also showed that dietary "disparities by age, race, education, and income [have] remained or, in some cases, have worsened.” Disparities include worse diets among younger adults compared to older adults, blacks and Hispanics compared to whites, and Americans with a lower level of education and/or family income, Mazaffarian said. 

Understanding dietary trends is relevant to drawing up policies that attempt to reduce diet-related illness. The researchers hope their data highlights the need for programs and policies that change the food environment, as opposed to solely focusing on improved education and labeling. 

"Greater government, industry, and advocacy efforts are needed to improve many aspects of our food system," Mazaffarian said. "In particular, [we need to] to further promote minimally processed healthier foods," as well as promoted the reduction of "refined grains, starches, and sugary drinks. System approaches, such as economic incentives, quality standards, and robust school and workplace approaches are particularly promising,” Mazaffarian said.

The research was published on June 21, 2016, in the journal JAMA

Source: personal email communication with lead researcher Dariush Mozaffarian, The JAMA Network Journals press release via EurekAlert! 
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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