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Do Americans Overestimate How Health Their Food Choices Are?

A new study aiming to find the disconnect between how healthy Americans think they eat and how healthy they actually do, determined that many Americans do not have an accurate perception of their diets. Jessica Thomson, a research epidemiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Stoneville, Mississippi, and author of the study said, “it appears difficult for adults in the United States to accurately assess the quality of their diets.”

Research asked 9,700 individuals to rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. Then these people completed 24-hour food questionnaires and the researchers compared the two sets of answers to evaluate how well they matched up. Around 85% of the people were off when they rated the quality of their diet, almost all overestimating how healthy it was. 

Many perceived their diet as good, however, researchers found that it was often actually poor. Those who rated their diet as poor we often much more accurate, more than 9 times out of 10 matching their rating to the researcher’s rating. In the other categories between 1% and 18% of the participants assessed the quality of their diets accurately. 

More research is needed to understand how to bridge the gap between people’s perceptions of the health of their diets and the reality of it. Thomas says that the first step is to consider what factors people use when thinking about how healthily they are eating. A large commonality among the people studied in this case and others are that they need to eat more fruits, vegetables, healthy whole grains, and fewer fats and fried foods. 

According to Shelley Maniscalco, a dietitian based in Washington D.C. reviewed the findings and believes the key is to make nutritious foods taste good. Providing people with recipes that are easy to follow takes away the pressure of making huge dietary changes all at once. The disconnect could be bridged if people understood why certain foods are or are not healthy and made it easier for them to shift away from the unhealthy. 

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