How Healthy is Your Diet? It sounds like a simple question, but according to a new study, it’s one that most Americans struggle to get right.
“We found that only a small percentage of American adults could accurately assess the healthiness of their diet, and interestingly, most people who rated their diet as poor are able to assess their diet accurately. ,” said research epidemiologist Jessica Thomson. with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in the Southeast region, lead author of the study. “Additionally, most adults overestimate the quality of their diet sometimes substantially.”
Thomson will present the findings online at Nutrition 2022 Live Online, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, held June 14-16.
The researchers wanted to find out whether a single, simple question could be used as a screening tool for nutrition studies – to replace or supplement the detailed dietary questionnaires commonly used in nutrition research. Previous studies have found that self-rated health is a strong predictor of morbidity and mortality, but there is little research on whether self-rated diet quality is an estimate of the actual quality of one’s diet.
The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey of American adults every two years. Participants were asked to complete a detailed 24-hour Dietary Recall Questionnaire and to rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, reasonable or poor.
Researchers used a food recall questionnaire to evaluate the quality of each participant’s diet. Examples of foods that are ranked as healthy include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy products, seafood and plant proteins. Foods considered less healthy include refined grains and foods high in sodium, added sugars or saturated fat.
The study revealed a significant disconnect between the scores calculated by the researcher and how participants ranked their diets. Of the more than 9,700 participants, nearly 8,000 (about 85%) misjudged the quality of their diet. Among them, almost all (99%) overestimated the healthiness of their diet.
Surprisingly, accuracy was highest among those who rated their diet as poor, with the researcher’s score matching the participant’s rating 97% of the time. The proportion of participants who correctly assessed the quality of their diet in the other four rating categories ranged between 1%-18%.
Thomson said further research could help clarify what factors people consider to assess the quality of their diet. For example, it would be useful to know whether people are aware of specific dietary recommendations and whether they care about where their food is purchased or how it is prepared.
“It is difficult for us to say whether American adults do not have an accurate understanding of the components of a healthy versus unhealthy diet, or whether adults perceive the healthiness of their diets as they would like them to be – that is, higher than the quality in fact,” Thomson said. “Until we have a better understanding of what individuals consider when assessing the healthiness of their diet, it will be difficult to determine what knowledge to improve self-assessment or perception of the quality of one’s diet.” And skills are necessary.”
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