Eating bad feels pretty good.
Splashing down a cola, eating a creme-filled doughnut or slurping an ice cream cone isn’t terrible in real time. It is only later, if then, that the regrets come.
The inertia of bad habits is why a lot of Americans are awful at eating the right kinds of foods.
More evidence of this under-achievement is on display with a new U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service report called “Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings From USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey.”
The report says Americans are filling their faces with a lot of empty calories but not enough (surprise!) fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Economists found that the nutritional quality of foods purchased by the overall population scored 53 out of 100 points using USDA’s Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2010 measure.
The report said the findings suggested “the eating habits of Americans are far from those recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
The researchers also looked at how households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits compare with the overall population, and how SNAP shoppers compare with non-SNAP low- and high-income consumers.
Compared with other lower income consumers not on SNAP, the SNAP-participating households purchased 31% fewer total vegetables, 40% fewer dark-green vegetables and beans, 24% fewer whole fruits, 20% fewer whole grains, and 27% fewer seafood and plant proteins for every 1,000 calories acquired. SNAP households also bought 6% more empty calories than other low-income consumers.
The authors state, of course, that diets of most Americans have room for improvement. But data shows SNAP recipients purchase lower quality food overall.
Since the SNAP program is supposed to improve the food security and diet quality of participating households, isn’t that a problem?
The Trump administration’s idea of a “Harvest Box” delivered to the door of SNAP recipients could, arguably, improve nutrition a smidge.
If the box excludes sugar sweetened beverages and other empty calories (good luck!) and instead packs whole grains and canned fruits and vegetables, that would be something. Does anyone believe that something that prescriptive could succeed? I don’t.
A better approach would be to layer incentives that would allow SNAP recipients to buy more fruits and vegetables.
One proposed Congressional bill that would seek to do that is H.R. 4855, the SNAP Healthy Incentives Act of 2018. As I understand it, the bill would extend SNAP benefits by up to 30% for fruit and vegetable purchases.
We also need expanded nutrition education efforts by the federal government that work to prompt all of us eat a healthy diet that includes more fruits and vegetables.
The lack of an adequately funded industry-led generic promotion effort for fruits and vegetables is a never-ending loop of missed opportunities for the health of our country.
Tom Karst is The Packer’s national editor. E-mail him at [email protected].