Americans Find Cost of Food Biggest Barrier to a Healthy Diet, Survey Finds

Just fifteen percent of Americans are familiar with the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits, a Cleveland Clinic survey finds.
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Apr. 24, 2023 16:13 UTC

In a sur­vey con­ducted by the Cleveland Clinic in the United States, almost half of the respon­dents cited the cost of food as the biggest obsta­cle to fol­low­ing a healthy diet.

In addi­tion, the sur­vey found that one in 10 Americans con­sider fast food the most heart-healthy diet, with par­ents twice as likely to opt for a fast food diet than non-par­ents.

I do feel that peo­ple are unfa­mil­iar with what a Mediterranean diet entails, there­fore, may not con­sider it healthy due to lack of under­stand­ing.- Julia Zumpano, reg­is­tered dieti­cian, Cleveland Clinic

On the other hand, only 15 per­cent of the respon­dents were aware of the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers polled 1,000 Americans aged 18 years or older from var­i­ous U.S. regions and of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties, edu­ca­tion lev­els and house­hold incomes.

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Forty-six per­cent of par­tic­i­pants responded that healthy food is com­par­a­tively expen­sive.

Another sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier for Americans when opt­ing for a healthy eat­ing pat­tern is the lack of time for prepar­ing healthy meals, cited by 23 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants.

One in five sur­vey par­tic­i­pants also iden­ti­fied the lack of knowl­edge of healthy cook­ing prac­tices as a bar­rier to healthy eat­ing, despite that almost two-thirds (70 per­cent) responded that they pre­pare meals at home at least four days a week.

The sur­vey also showed that access to healthy food is more chal­leng­ing for Black Americans than White Americans (20 per­cent com­pared to 15 per­cent).

In today’s fast-paced world, Americans are pressed for time, and as a con­se­quence, heart-healthy diet and exer­cise choices may be impacted,” Cleveland Clinic said in a press release. The sur­vey found that many Americans are unclear on which diets are health­i­est for their hearts.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national pub­lic health agency of the United States, says heart dis­ease is the most com­mon cause of death among men, women and peo­ple of most racial and eth­nic groups in the United States.

According to Julia Zumpano, a reg­is­tered dieti­cian at the Cleveland Clinic, peo­ple in the U.S. are highly exposed to food ingre­di­ents widely con­sid­ered unhealthy.

The SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is very high in sat­u­rated fat and sim­ple sug­ars and inad­e­quate in fruit, veg­eta­bles, legumes and fish,” she told Olive Oil Times. SAD diet includes a large amount of processed and con­ve­nience foods.”

Zumpano also iden­ti­fied var­i­ous rea­sons behind Americans con­sid­er­ing fast food eat­ing a healthy pat­tern.

It is a combo of lack of infor­ma­tion and con­vinc­ing them­selves that pota­toes (fries) are a veg­etable,” she said. I think that some Americans feel that some choices at fast food can be con­sid­ered healthy (yogurt par­fait, salad, soup, etc.), there­fore can clas­sify it as healthy food.”

On the other hand, the dieti­cian attrib­uted the low level of aware­ness Americans exhib­ited of the Mediterranean diet’s health ben­e­fits to a lack of infor­ma­tion.

“[The fact that only 15 per­cent of respon­dents were famil­iar with the heart-healthy ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet] was very sur­pris­ing to me,” she said. I do feel that peo­ple are unfa­mil­iar with what a Mediterranean diet entails, there­fore, may not con­sider it healthy due to lack of under­stand­ing.”


She also noted that it took a long time before the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet were acknowl­edged.

The Mediterranean diet tends to be higher in fat, which for decades was not con­sid­ered healthy,” she said. People may not real­ize the impor­tance the type of fat plays on heart health.”

Meanwhile, an inde­pen­dent sur­vey car­ried out last year by Finance Buzz, a per­sonal finance online ser­vice, found that a plu­ral­ity of sur­vey par­tic­i­pants (35 per­cent) were will­ing to try the Mediterranean diet even though the cost of buy­ing healthy food weighs heav­ily on them.

According to dieti­cian Kelly LeBlanc from Oldways, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes cul­tural food tra­di­tions, the Mediterranean diet is not as expen­sive as it might appear when bro­ken down to its core.

The Mediterranean diet is based on peas­ant foods’ like legumes, whole grains and sea­son­ally avail­able veg­eta­bles, which are con­sis­tently less expen­sive than meat and highly processed snack foods,” LeBlanc said.

Families try­ing to eat healthy on a bud­get can take many lessons from the resource­ful­ness of tra­di­tional Mediterranean cook­ing.”

On the other hand, Zumpano noted that the ris­ing cost of buy­ing healthy food is a deter­rent for peo­ple in the U.S. try­ing to eat health­ily.

However, she pointed out that by remov­ing unnec­es­sary items from their shop­ping lists, Americans can free up more money for pur­chas­ing healthy food.

I do feel that some foods asso­ci­ated with being healthy can cost more, although tra­di­tional whole foods such as pro­duce (fresh, frozen or canned with­out added salt or sugar), grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, meats and plant oils should be foun­da­tional,” she said.

When other snack foods and bev­er­ages – such as soda, chips, crack­ers, dry cereal bars – are avoided, this leaves extra money to pur­chase the whole foods.”

Reflecting on the survey’s find­ings, Samir Kapadia, chair­man of car­dio­vas­cu­lar med­i­cine at the Cleveland Clinic, noted that most heart dis­ease is pre­ventable through a health­ier diet, reg­u­lar exer­cise, and not smok­ing.

We want to empha­size how impor­tant it is to make a heart-healthy lifestyle a pri­or­ity for every­one,” Kapadia added. While years of poor diet and exer­cise choices can dam­age the heart, there’s always an oppor­tu­nity to adopt a health­ier lifestyle.”


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