Chapter 2 Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns

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Current Eating Patterns in the United States

The typical eating patterns currently consumed by many in the United States do not align with the Dietary Guidelines. As shown in Figure 2-1, when compared to the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern:

  • About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
  • More than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations, but, as discussed later in the chapter, are not meeting the recommendations for the subgroups within each of these food groups.
  • Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

In addition, the eating patterns of many are too high in calories. Calorie intake over time, in comparison to calorie needs, is best evaluated by measuring body weight status. The high percentage of the population that is overweight or obese suggests that many in the United States overconsume calories. As documented in the Introduction, Table I-1, more than two-thirds of all adults and nearly one-third of all children and youth in the United States are either overweight or obese.

Figure 2-1. Dietary Intakes Compared to Recommendations. Percent of the U.S. Population Ages 1 Year and Older Who Are Below, At, or Above Each Dietary Goal or Limit

Figure 2-1 bar chart - chart description provided below

Note: The center (0) line is the goal or limit. For most, those represented by the orange sections of the bars, shifting toward the center line will improve their eating pattern.

Data Sources: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010 for average intakes by age-sex group. Healthy U.S.-Style Food Patterns, which vary based on age, sex, and activity level, for recommended intakes and limits.

Current eating patterns can be moved toward healthier eating patterns by making shifts in food choices over time. Making these shifts can help support a healthy body weight, meet nutrient needs, and lessen the risk for chronic disease.

The following sections highlight average intakes of the food groups and other dietary components for age-sex groups and show that, in some cases, individuals are close to meeting recommendations, but in others, more substantial change is needed. They also provide examples of foods commonly consumed. Understanding what current intakes are and how food groups and other dietary components are consumed can help inform shifts that are needed to support healthy eating patterns.

In this chapter, intakes of food groups and other dietary components are described in two ways: (1) the total amount consumed from all sources in comparison to recommendations or limits, and (2) the proportion of this intake that comes from different food categories based on the form in which foods are eaten—such as soups, sandwiches, or burritos. The What We Eat in American (WWEIA) Food Categories[1] provide insight into the sources of food group and nutrient intakes and are therefore useful in identifying strategies to improve eating patterns.

Figure 2-2. Empower People To Make Healthy Shifts

Making changes to eating patterns can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to emphasize that every food choice is an opportunity to move toward a healthy eating pattern. Small shifts in food choices—over the course of a week, a day, or even a meal—can make a big difference. Here are some ideas for realistic, small shifts that can help people adopt healthy eating patterns.


[1] The What We Eat in America (WWEIA) Food Categories provide an application to analyze foods and beverages as consumed. Each of the food and beverage items that can be reported in WWEIA, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, are placed in one of the mutually exclusive food categories. More information about the WWEIA Food Categories is available at Accessed November 25, 2015.