Chapter 2 Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns

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Opportunities for Shifts in Food Choices

To support a healthy body weight, meet nutrient needs, and lessen the risk of chronic disease, shifts are needed in overall eating patterns—across and within food groups and from current typical choices to nutrient-dense options. Eating patterns are the result of choices on multiple eating occasions over time, both at home and away from home. As a result, individuals have many opportunities to make shifts to improve eating patterns.

The majority of the U.S. population consumes three meals a day plus more than one snack. Children ages 2 to 5 years are most likely to consume three meals a day, with 84 percent consuming three meals and most often, two or more snacks. In contrast, only half of adolescent females and young adult males consume three meals a day, but most also have two or more snacks per day. Also, among most age groups, 40 to 50 percent consume two to three snacks a day, and about one-third consume four or more snacks a day.

About two-thirds (67%) of the calories consumed by the U.S. population are purchased at a store, such as a grocery store or supermarket, and consumed in the home. However, Americans have increased the proportion of food they consume away from home from 18 percent in 1977-1978 to 33 percent in 2009-2010.

These data suggest that multiple opportunities to improve food choices exist throughout the day and in varied settings where food is obtained and consumed. Small shifts made at each of these many eating occasions over time can add up to real improvements in eating patterns.