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Quality of U.S. Diet Improves, Slightly

But Americans still eat too few vegetables and too much salt, survey finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The quality of Americans' diets has improved somewhat but remains poor overall, and dietary disparity between the rich and poor is growing, a new study shows. Education also played a role in dietary quality, which was lowest and improved more slowly among people who had 12 years or less of school, according to the study published online Sept. 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The new information came from data on more than 29,000 adults -- aged 20 to 85 -- who took part in the 1999 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The quality of their diets was rated from 0 to 110, with a higher score indicating a healthier diet. The participants' average dietary score rose from nearly 40 in 1999 to 2000 to almost 47 in 2009 to 2010. More than half of that improvement was due to people consuming fewer trans fats, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Other beneficial changes in Americans' eating habits included increased consumption of whole fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats, and reduced intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. However, people are not eating more vegetables and haven't reduced their consumption of red and/or processed meat. Also, their salt intake has increased, a finding the researchers called "disconcerting." The researchers also found that economic disparity increased between 1999 and 2010. Healthy foods generally cost more and poor people often lack access to stores that sell healthy foods, the researchers noted.

"The overall improvement in diet quality is encouraging, but the widening gap related to income and education presents a serious challenge to our society as a whole," study senior author Walter Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., chair of the department of nutrition at HSPH, said in the news release.

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