`Most Americans Overestimate the Healthiness of Their Diets, Study Suggests - Olive Oil Times

Most Americans Overestimate the Healthiness of Their Diets, Study Suggests

By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 28, 2022 13:31 UTC

Most adults attempt­ing to lose weight by improv­ing the qual­ity of their diet tend to over­es­ti­mate how healthy their eat­ing habits are, the results of a small study pre­sented at an American Heart Association con­fer­ence indi­cate.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah-Salt Lake City eval­u­ated the diets of 116 adults between the ages of 25 and 58 over 12 months.

Future stud­ies should exam­ine the effects of help­ing peo­ple close the gap between their per­cep­tions and objec­tive diet qual­ity mea­sure­ments.- Jessica Cheng, research fel­low, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Study par­tic­i­pants met with dieti­cians indi­vid­u­ally to dis­cuss their nutri­tion and were instructed to track every­thing they ate and drank daily for a year. They also wore a FitBit to track phys­i­cal activ­ity and were asked to weigh them­selves daily.

In self-assess­ments cal­cu­lated using a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score of zero to 100, most par­tic­i­pants inac­cu­rately assessed the degree to which their diets had improved over the 12 months.

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The HEI is a stan­dard research tool that com­pares an indi­vid­u­al’s eat­ing habits with the dietary rec­om­men­da­tions of the United States gov­ern­ment.

Over the year, par­tic­i­pants improved their diet qual­ity by about one point, accord­ing to the researchers. However, accord­ing to their self-assess­ment, par­tic­i­pants believed they had improved their scores by 18 points.

Furthermore, the researchers found that only one in 10 par­tic­i­pants accu­rately self-assessed the qual­ity of their diets based on the HEI.

People attempt­ing to lose weight or health pro­fes­sion­als who are help­ing peo­ple with weight loss or nutri­tion-related goals should be aware that there is likely more room for improve­ment in the diet than may be expected,” said Jessica Cheng, one of the study’s authors and a post­doc­toral research fel­low in epi­demi­ol­ogy at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

She added that while peo­ple gen­er­ally know that fruits and veg­eta­bles are healthy, there are many other dis­con­nects between pub­lic per­cep­tion of what foods are healthy and the cur­rent sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture.

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Future stud­ies should exam­ine the effects of help­ing peo­ple close the gap between their per­cep­tions and objec­tive diet qual­ity mea­sure­ments,” Cheng said.

While the researchers acknowl­edged that only lim­ited con­clu­sions might be drawn from the study due to its small sam­ple size and over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of female par­tic­i­pants, they said that the sub­ject mat­ter remains poignant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of adults in the United States attempt to lose weight each year. Furthermore, a CDC sur­vey found that obe­sity preva­lence was nearly 42 per­cent in the U.S. from 2017 to 2020.

According to the cen­ters, the esti­mated annual med­ical cost of obe­sity in the United States was nearly $173 bil­lion in 2019 dol­lars. Medical costs for adults who had obe­sity were $1,861 higher than med­ical costs for peo­ple with a healthy weight.”

Deepika Laddu, chair of the American Heart Association’s coun­cil on lifestyle behav­ioral change for improv­ing health fac­tors, said this dis­con­nect between peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of their diets and how healthy their eat­ing pat­terns actu­ally are might have neg­a­tive health con­se­quences.

Overestimating the per­ceived health­i­ness of food intake could lead to weight gain, frus­tra­tions over not meet­ing per­sonal weight loss goals or lower like­li­hood of adopt­ing health­ier eat­ing habits,” she said.

While mis­per­cep­tion of diet intake is com­mon among dieters, these find­ings pro­vide addi­tional sup­port for behav­ioral coun­sel­ing inter­ven­tions that include more fre­quent con­tacts with health care pro­fes­sion­als, such as dieti­cians or health coaches, to address the gaps in per­cep­tion and sup­port long-last­ing, real­is­tic healthy eat­ing behav­iors,” Laddu con­cluded.


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