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Skinny Understanding of a Healthy Diet

Vast Majority Overrate Their Food Choices

Planning meals

By John Salak —

It is bad enough that almost three-quarters of Americans are overweight, if not obese. Sadly, an even higher level overrates the quality of their diet.

This startingly insight came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which studied data to gauge whether people could accurately assess their eating habits. They don’t.

“We found that only a small percentage of U.S. adults can accurately assess the healthfulness of their diet, and interestingly, it’s mostly those who perceive their diet as poor who can accurately assess their diet,” reported Dr. Jessica Thomson, a research epidemiologist with the department. “Additionally, most adults overrate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a substantial degree.”

The findings help explain why so many American adults—73.6 percent—are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have problems trimming pounds.

The agriculture department’s study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and discovered that 85 percent of people inaccurately assessed their diet quality. Of these misguided individuals, almost all (99%) overrated the healthfulness of their diet.

In an ironic twist, the highest diet accuracy was among those who reported their diets to be poor.

While depressing, these findings could spur additional research to help explain why it is so difficult for people to realize that they are eating poorly. This type of insight could then lead nutritionists and public health officials to help individuals improve the quality of their diets and their overall health.

“It’s difficult for us to say whether U.S. adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be — that is, higher in quality than it is,” Thomson noted. “Until we have a better understanding of what individuals consider when assessing the healthfulness of their diet, it will be difficult to determine what knowledge and skills are necessary to improve self-assessment or perception of one’s diet quality.”

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