The USDA Just Gave Americans a Grade on Healthy Eating—And It's Not Pretty

April 7, 2016
by Steve Holt for Thrive Market
The USDA Just Gave Americans a Grade on Healthy Eating—And It's Not Pretty

It’s no secret that the Standard American Diet—including lots of processed foods, sugar, salt, and fat—is not doing us any favors in the health department. 117 million Americans (that's about half of us)  suffer from one or more preventable diseases, many of which are connected to diet and nutrition.

It's pretty obvious that overall, the country isn't at it's healthiest. The average adult consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar every year. By 2030, half of all Americans will be obese, and childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children in the last three decades.

But now, the United States Department of Agriculture has given us a definitive answer on just how poor the country's eating habits really are.

And it's basically an F.

Here's how they came to that conclusion. Since 1999, the USDA has kept what it calls the Healthy Eating Index, a 100-point system that measures how closely the nation’s food choices align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a list of expertly written suggestions for how much and what we should be eating. The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services publishes a new set of guidelines every five years—and recently updated them for 2015 to 2020.

After the USDA released the new guidelines, a lead nutritionist for the department published a blog post analyzing how Americans ate between 1999 and 2012.

Bad news first: Americans only scored a 59 out of 100, based on our cumulative “intakes of total fruit, whole fruit, total vegetables, greens and beans, whole and refined grains, total protein foods, seafood and plant-based protein foods, sodium, and calories from solid fats, added sugar, and alcohol beyond a moderate level.”

OK, it looks pretty dire, but there is a silver lining: Our HEI score has steadily improved since 1999, which it was first implemented. Back then, Americans scored just 49. The upward trajectory of America’s healthy eating is a welcome sight for sure—but it's important to remember that rates of diet-related diseases and obesity have also risen during the same time period.

“Given the robust science behind the Dietary Guidelines, it is not an understatement to suggest that if we were to eat closer to the Dietary Guidelines—and saw our nation’s HEI scores get closer to 100—we would see reductions in the prevalence of diet-related chronic disease,” writes Dr. Tusa Rebecca Schap, lead nutritionist with the USDA, in the blog post. She adds that the USDA is currently adapting the HEI to account for the new dietary guidelines.

Here's another piece of good news: All is not lost, and as a country, there's still time to change our eating habits for the better. The recommendations in the just released guidelines reinforce what most of us already know—that we should be eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, proteins, and whole grains, and limiting the amount of sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans fats. Let's heed the USDA's advice, and start making healthier choices little by little.

Think of this grade as a midterm assessment—there's still time to improve it before the final exam.

Photo credit: Natalie Jeffcott via Stocksy

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This article is related to: Diet, Health, Healthy Choices, Nutrition, News, Educational

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  • Joan Camara

    Factory farm animals are given antibiotic shots (because they live in filth), and hormone shots (to make them fatter...faster), and then their fed GMO grain. Is it no wonder that diabetes and other diseases are rising through the roof. Diary and meat should NOT be taken into the body. People should NOT be drinking ANY milk from the grocery store, whether it's regular fat milk, low fat milk, or skim milk. People are putting in their bodies.....everything that they put in factory farm animals!
    After that fact, there is good news for dairy lovers. And that is, buy organic nut milks from honest organic companies, or buy some organic nuts (not sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and who knows what else), and go to youtube and learn how to make your own nut milks! Easy and delicious, but also HEALTHY! Then there's many good organic companies who make wonderful organic dairy products besides milk. Organic cheese, and other dairy products are the ONLY way to go.
    Forget meat! You can get your protein from SO MANY other sources. It takes knowledge! Learn from signing up with organic newsletters, on who is the honest organic companies, and which organic company is kissing up to Monsanto, the biggest leading GMO company in the world! There's a reason why it's said, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
    If everyone knew the many chemicals they spray on their vegetables and fruits, they would turn away from them at the grocery store, and go find a store with ORGANIC fruits and vegetables! Sooo many people are learning this, that even HUGE corporations are sitting up and taking notice! Look for your favorite product in organics now in Walmart, and Target. The round seal on the front of a lot of products now, that says "USDA ORGANIC"....will be the sign to change your health around! I did, and will NEVER look back. Organics all the way! I'm thanking ThriveMarket for their organics now. Just hope they realize that their are many organic companies that are looking to jump on the organic bandwagon to get people's dollars, and NOT looking to make anyone healthy! Sad, but a fact of life. There's always a bad guy around almost every corner, that we.must watch out for. Thank You Thrive!