LOS ANGELES – Americans have been eating worse than in previous years, according to a newly released poll of more than 150,000 adults.
Every day, Gallup and the health improvement company Healthways ask hundreds of Americans whether they ate healthfully the day before. Healthful eating usually rises and falls month by month, with Americans eating a little worse in spring, better in late summer and much worse around November and December.
But the survey found that every month this year, Americans said they were eating worse than during the same months in 2012.
For instance, 63.4 percent of Americans surveyed this September said they were eating healthfully, compared with 67.6 percent in September of last year.
Pollsters pointed out that the January boost in healthful eating wasn’t as big as usual, and that eating well also took an unusually sharp dive in May and June. All in all, for most of this year, healthful eating has been at its lowest point since 2008, according to the Gallup-Healthways poll.
“It’s exactly what I would have expected,” said Valerie Ruelas, director of the Community Diabetes Initiative of the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Pollsters didn’t speculate on why the American diet might be worsening, but Ruelas suggested that persisting poverty after the recession could be pushing Americans to eat badly. Census Bureau data have shown poverty levels stagnating between 2011 and 2012.
“One of the things that’s really hard to compete with, as far as healthy food, are the dollar menus at fast-food restaurants,” she said. “It’s affordable.”
In addition, produce sold in impoverished communities is often of poorer quality, making it less appealing to strapped consumers, Ruelas said.
Gallup and Healthways also asked Americans about eating their fruits and vegetables: Fewer Americans said they were regularly eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables compared with last year. The only exceptions were in March and October.