By MATTHEW D. ERNST
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite some improvement in low-fat dairy and whole grain consumption, American consumers are falling far short of meeting government dietary requirements for food purchased for at-home consumption.
That was the take-home message of a November report, Assessing the Healthfulness of Consumers’ Food Purchases, issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
“The healthfulness of (food-at-home) purchases did not improve from 1998 to 2006,” wrote Richard Volke and Abigail Okrent. “Consumers shifted from refined grains toward whole grains, but have also shifted from fruits and vegetables toward processed and packaged foods.”
Volk and Okrent used the Nielsen Homescan database, a large database of consumer purchases and household characteristics, to measure the amount spent on different kinds of food by the same households over time. Their analysis showed households spent almost 4 percent more on processed/packaged food and beverages between 1998 and 2006.
The percentage spent on fruits and vegetables declined during that period, from 19.04 to 16.31 percent. “The healthfulness of the average consumer food shopping basked did not improve noticeably between 1998 and 2006,” said the researchers.
The report also indicates a smaller portion was spent on meat purchased for consumption at home. Regular and low-fat meats made up 12.2 percent of consumer purchases in 1998; that portion in 2006 was 8.04 percent. Differences in meat prices between those individual years could potentially account for some of that decline.
The researchers acknowledged food purchases consumed away from home were not included in the study. Food away from home plays a substantial role in U.S. consumer diets.
“Our results indicate that consumer purchasing behavior falls far short of what would be considered a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat meat and dairy products, while light on added sugars, fats/oils, and most packaged products,” they wrote.
The full study is available on the ERS website by going to www.ers.usda.gov and then clicking on the “reports” tab and selecting by the title.