Michael Chin Worcester HealthA new study has found that the American diet has improved over the course of the last decade.  However, the study indicated that socioeconomically struggling families continue to fight to improve diet.  Professor Walter Willett, who served as first author on the endeavor, led the study; the findings were first published in JAMA Internal Medicine and were summarized for an article recently completed by Medical News Today.

For the study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, otherwise known as the HSPH, observed various facets of data, as provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, otherwise known as the NHANES.  The data was used to assess the impact of progression in policies on food on the American diet.  Since the 1990s, many new policies have been introduced to monitor the quality and nutritional value of foods, including the creation of public health guidelines and close examination of food processing techniques.  These changes prompted the team at the Harvard School of Public Health to look into the affect on the American diet, using data that surveyed a sample of over twenty nine thousand adults, ranging in age from twenty years old to eight five years old.

The diet of these participants was followed from 1999-2010, and were evaluated using two separate food quality indexes—the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010, otherwise known as the AHEI 2010, and the Healthy Eating Index 2010, otherwise known as the HEI 2010.  Specifically, the AHEI 2010 scale evaluates the overall diet quality on a score from zero to one hundred and ten.  Eleven specific categories are judged and the scores from each added together to create a final overall score.  In 1999, data showed that the average score using this scale was just shy of forty.  By 2010, the average score had increased to nearly forty-seven.

Researchers believe over half of this gain is attributable to reduced consumption of trans fats.  In essence, Americans are eating less baked goods, chips and fried foods, in favor of more fruits, whole grains and nuts.  However, this was not the only finding of the study.  A gap was discovered in diet quality between those having a higher socioeconomic status, or SES, when compared to those with lower SES.  Furthermore, as the study moved forward, this gap grew, indicating that the problem is still increasing.  Specifically, researchers discovered that Non-Hispanic black consumers suffered the worst diet.  Alternatively, of those having lower socioeconomic status, Mexican Americans had the best diet.