Are Americans Eating Healthier Than 20 Years Ago?

The answer is yes...and no.

By Melina Druga

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Twenty years ago, people were not concerned about obesity rates, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or the negative health effects of processed foods. Americans frequented fast food restaurants and drank diet soda believing it was best for their waistlines. Today, organic goods are available in most supermarkets, fast casual restaurants boosting fresh, natural ingredients have gained in popularity and soda consumption has declined to a 30-year low.

Pew Research Center surveyed Americans on their eating habits compared to 20 years ago. The results were published in December. Some of the key findings follow.

Americans Perceive They Are Unhealthy

When asked if people pay more, less or an equal amount of attention to food today compared to two decades ago, 54% of survey respondents said more attention, 26% said less attention and 19% said about the same.

However, when asked if eating habits were more or less healthy or the same, 54% said less healthy while only 29% said healthier.

What is the biggest problem among Americans? Twelve percent said people eat too much and 24% said the types of foods eaten; but the majority, 63%, thought both were to blame.

Nonetheless, 72% said they believe eating habits contribute to longevity. A near equal number, 72% to 71%, believe eating habits and exercise contribute to a healthy life while 61% cited safe housing and 47% cited genetic factors.

When asked about their own eating habits, 55% said they focused fairly well on healthy eating, while 18% said they focused very well. Others said they focused on the taste of the meal and on eating what is convenient. An additional 36% said not caring at all about what they eat described them very well or fairly well.

Attitudes Vary By Group

Among those who believe GMOs are an issue, 67% said Americans eat more unhealthy compared to 53% of those who don’t care about GMOs or care very little. The majority, 87%, said they believe food has a baring on long life.

Individuals who have devoted their own lives to eating healthy were likely to think what Americans consume is the largest problem, 34%, and that what a person eats contributes to longevity, 86%.

Vegetarians and Vegans are a Minority 

Three percent of Americans consider themselves strict vegetarian or vegan, while 6% consider themselves mostly vegetarian or vegan.

Vegetarians and vegans tend to be younger: 12% of those age 18-29 and 12% of those 30-49. After the age of 50, rates drop to 5%.

Food allergies are present among a third of vegetarians and vegans.

Finally, but not surprisingly, the survey found that those who eat healthy as well as those who don’t, tend to have family members and friends with the same eating habits.

Melina Druga is an American journalist and author for ReportLinker, a search engine for economic and industry statistics that turns data and PDF documents into structured knowledge.

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