American adults are eating healthier diets, making better use of nutrition information on food labels, consuming more fiber and less cholesterol, and getting fewer calories from total fat and saturated fat, a federal government report says.
"We have made significant progress, but our work is not done," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a U.S. Department of Agriculture news release.
For the report, researchers analyzed data gathered from adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2010, and found that overall daily calorie intake fell by 78 calories per day during that time.
Decreases were also seen in calories from total fat (about 3 percent) and saturated fat (just under 6 percent) and cholesterol intake (nearly 8 percent). Overall fiber intake rose by 1.2 grams (7.5 percent) a day, according to the report released Jan. 16 by the USDA's Economic Research Service.
Eating out less accounted for 20 percent of the improvement in the quality of adults' diets. Calories from foods consumed away from home (such as in restaurants and fast-food outlets) fell by 127 calories per day. The average adult ate three fewer meals and 1.5 fewer snacks per month away from home, the study found.
The report also found that people are more likely to want and to use nutrition information about their food. When making food choices, 42 percent of working-age adults and 57 percent of older adults said they used the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels most or all of the time. And 76 percent of working-age adults said they would use nutrition information in restaurants if it was available.
The researchers also uncovered changing attitudes about food and nutrition. The proportion of working-age adults who believe they have the ability to change their body weight rose 3 percent from 2007 to 2010.
During that time frame, there was little change in the influence that price had when selecting items at the grocery store, but working-age adults placed increased importance on nutrition when choosing grocery items.
"When individuals believe that their actions directly affect their body weight, they might be more inclined to make healthier food choices," study author Jessica Todd said in the news release.
The report's findings show the positive effects of efforts since 2009 to improve Americans' food choices and diet quality, and their access to science-based nutrition education and advice, according to federal government officials.
"We are pleased to hear that this study finds improvements in several key areas of the American diet," Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in the news release. "FDA will soon propose an updated Nutrition Facts label designed to provide information that will make it even easier for people to make healthy choices."