Diets Popularity in the United States

Introduction

Nutrition is an important component influencing the health of the nation. However, many people do not follow the accepted recommendations for the consumption of certain products. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that fewer than 1 in 10 American citizens ingest the recommended daily amount of vegetables, and only 4 in 10 children and fewer than 1 in 7 adults eat enough fruit.1 The dietary choice is a decision that has a significant impact on the health of an individual.

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For the purposes of this paper, diet is treated not as a short-time change in nutrient consumption but as a continuous nutrition style typical of an individual or a family. This choice has several determinants, including price, healthfulness, calorie content, and the convenience of different foods. For example, some individuals prefer cheaper products, while others choose in favor of expensive foods because they contain healthier ingredients and fewer calories. Another group is comprised of people who have either little time or inclination for cooking and select products from fast-food chains or consume frozen or convenience foods.

The research question is: What does the evidence show regarding the popularity of various dietary choices in the United States? The purpose of this literature review is to discover the proofs that people choose diverse dietary styles due to certain reasons. The categories included in the analysis include the choice of some foods due to low expense, the choice of highly expensive foods due to their healthy ingredients and low-calorie content, and the choice of quickly prepared convenience or ready-to-eat foods.

Choice of Certain Types of Foods due to Their Low Expense

The first school of thought within this analysis comprises data related to the low cost of products as a decisive factor for nutritional preferences. Some consumers explain their dietary choice as having to do with a more moderate price of products because they cannot afford to purchase expensive foods such as organic fruits and vegetables or dairy products. Okoro, Musonda, and Agumba identify the cost of food as one economic determinant that influences food choices.2

Darmon and Drewnowski3 Also, investigate the economic aspect of food choices, showing that the problem of being restricted to the choice of inexpensive but perhaps nutritionally inferior food is also related to the issue of social inequalities, causing people with a lower income to buy cheaper products that are rich in calories due to added sugars and fats that they contain to increase their nutritional value. Thus, the major aim of consuming foods rich in energy is to satisfy hunger because low-income individuals are rarely concerned about the usefulness of the products they buy. Consequently, economic factors can be considered a determination when considering the factors involved in adopting healthy diets.

The tendency to select energy-dense products has a significant impact on children’s nutrition as children tend to consume groups of foods that are mainly rich in energy but are nutrient-poor.4 For example, children get most of their energy from milk as well as cakes, cookies, quick bread, and pies. Moreover, children consume many soft drinks that are rich in added sugars. These foods are generally cheaper and easier to access than fruit and vegetables.

Frequently, products that are considered healthy have a relatively low energy-to-price ratio, which is why they are not popular among low-income populations.5 The fact that low-income families and individuals must spend from 35 to 65% of the money they earn on foods does not allow them to choose more expensive but healthier and nutrient-rich products and limits their choices to cheaper products. Consequently, products that support healthful diets can be considered unaffordable for low-income families.6

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Most of the studies discussed in this section are quantitative and use statistical tools to examine data. Some of them are grounded in the analysis of previous findings and consider the impact of income as it relates to such attributes of foods as energy and nutrition. The general conclusion related to the topic of this review is that the choice of certain types of food due to their low price is more typical of low-income populations because they value energy-dense more than nutrient-dense products.

Choice of Highly Expensive Foods due to Their Healthy Ingredients and Low-Calorie Content

The second school of thought differentiated in this research supports the idea that some people tend to consume more expensive products because they believe that these foods contain more healthy ingredients and fewer calories. This supposition has some support from the research, which provides evidence that an average healthier diet pattern costs more than one that is less healthy.7 Studies also prove that nutrient-dense foods are usually sold at higher costs than those that are energy-dense.8 Lee et al.9 promote similar ideas.

Since food prices and affordability are important factors in choice, people with higher income tend to spend more on food because they believe that expensive products should be of higher quality and thus more healthy and useful. Usually, people who are concerned about the quality of products and are ready to spend more are interested not only in the energy that food provides but in nutrients and thus pay more attention to their health. A focus on health is significant in the context of findings that in North America on the whole, people consume the lowest percentage in the world of all-natural foods or meals made of vegetables and fruit.10

Consumption of healthy but expensive foods depends on the age of individuals. Thus, a report about healthy eating trends worldwide claims that representatives of various generations—Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers—demonstrate the greatest awareness of the importance of consuming healthy products (33%, 32%, and 32%, respectively).11

Nevertheless, of the three categories, Generation Z is the most willing to pay a premium to consume foods that are of higher quality and thus more healthy, with 31% of individuals supporting this idea. However, the readiness to pay extra for healthy foods decreases with age. For example, only 15% of the Silent Generation that comprises people older than 65 are willing to pay more, compared to 29% of Millennials and 26% of Generation X representatives.

The sources discussed in the context of the second school of thought are also mainly quantitative. The concepts under analysis include affordability of healthy foods, the nutritional value of products, and dependence on the consumption of healthy foods on income. The conclusion reached in this part of the analysis is that individuals with a higher income can afford to spend more on foods that are more expensive and thus healthier. Moreover, these people are more concerned about their health and therefore prefer nutritious foods to energy-dense ones.

Choice of Fast-Preparing or Ready Foods

When it comes to a discussion of American eating habits, the majority of people will mention fast food, which has become the embodiment of the lifestyle of those living in the United States. This trend, although it reflects a stereotype, has been observed for decades as more fast food is consumed in America than in any other country in the world. Moreover, fast food consumption represents a conscious decision on people’s part. Thus, according to a survey conducted in 2014, 67.2% of Americans choose to eat fast food because it is convenient, and 30.6% admit they simply like these foods.12 At the same time, 31.7% of US citizens buy fast food because it is cheap, and 13.2% of respondents select it due to a lack of other choices.

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A general tendency showing a decrease in time spent on home food preparation and consumption in the United States has been observed among diverse socio-demographic groups. This trend has led to the current situation in which people eat out more, buy fast-food, or purchase frozen foods that do not need cooking.13 In fact, about one-third of the daily energy consumed by American adults is obtained from foods in cafes and restaurants. Moreover, many of the foods consumed at home are not cooked by people but purchased.

The studies discussed within this school of thought, as in the previous two schools, apply quantitative methods of analysis. This approach provides relevant results based on the use of statistics and allows comparing contemporary trends to those observed in previous decades. The studies consider such concepts as fast food consumption, choice of convenience meals, and using frozen foods. The major idea in this category of research studies is that the tendency of choosing fast food and ready or frozen meals is not new and has been typical of American society since the previous century.

On the whole, the issues discovered in the first and the secondary schools of thought are interrelated. While individuals who are constrained by lower-income prefer foods that provide more energy at less cost, people with higher income are more concerned about the quality of products they consume and tend to buy foods that are more expensive and have greater nutritional value and fewer calories. This separation contributes to the further growth of income-based health disparities because cheaper foods that are rich in energy contain significant quantities of added sugar and fats that have a negative impact on the development of such health problems as obesity and heart problems.

The third school of thought unites both income issues and historical tendencies. Thus, it has been discovered that people with lower income tend to buy fast food because of its affordability. Also, it is important to consider the fact that the trend of a reduction in home cooking and the increase in eating out or purchasing fast food is not new for the United States and has been observed for some time.

In summary, the issue of nutrition on the whole and the aspect of healthy eating, in particular, is vital for the United States. The country has high obesity rates, which can be directly tied to bad nutrition habits. The major cause of the problem is income inequality that leads to discrepancies in the buying abilities of American citizens. As a result, those with higher income can afford more expensive products that are also healthier and contain fewer calories, while lower-income individuals are constrained to buying cheaper products aimed to satisfy hunger.

Works Cited

“Nutrition.” CDC. Web.

Okoro, Chioma S., et al. “Evaluating the Influence of Nutrition Determinants on Construction Workers’ Food Choices.” American Journal of Men’s Health, vol. 11, no. 6, 2017, pp. 1713-1727.

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Rao, Mayuree, et al. “Do Healthier Foods and Diet Patterns Cost More than Less Healthy Options? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” BMJ Open, vol. 3, 2013, pp. 1-16.

Darmon, Nicole, and Adam Drenowski. “Contribution of Food Prices and Diet Cost to Socioeconomic Disparities in Diet Quality and Health: A Systematic Review and Analysis.” Nutrition Review, vol. 73, no. 10, 2015, pp. 643-660.

Why Do You Choose to Eat Fast Food?Statista. Web.

Keast, Debra R., et al. “Food Sources of Energy and Nutrients among Children in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2006.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 1, 2013, pp. 283-301.

Lee, A., et al. “Monitoring the Price and Affordability of Foods and Diets Globally”. Obesity Reviews, vol. 14, 2013, pp. 82-95.

Horning, Melissa L., and Jayne A. Fulkerson. “A Systematic Review on the Affordability of a Healthful Diet for Families in the United States.” Public Health Nursing, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 68-80.

Smith, Lindsey P., et al. “Trends in US Home Food Preparation and Consumption: Analysis of National Nutrition Surveys and Time Use Studies From 1965–1966 to 2007–2008”. Nutrition Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-10.

“We Are What We Eat. Healthy Eating Trends around the World.” Nielsen. Web.

Footnotes

  1. “Nutrition.” CDC. Web.
  2. Okoro, Chioma S., et al. “Evaluating the Influence of Nutrition Determinants on Construction Workers’ Food Choices.” American Journal of Men’s Health, vol. 11, no. 6, 2017, p. 1719.
  3. Darmon, Nicole, and Adam Drenowski. “Contribution of Food Prices and Diet Cost to Socioeconomic Disparities in Diet Quality and Health: A Systematic Review and Analysis. Nutrition Review, vol. 73, no. 10, 2015, pp. 645.
  4. Keast, Debra R., et al. “Food Sources of Energy and Nutrients among Children in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2006.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 1, 2013, pp. 283-301.
  5. Lee, A., et al. “Monitoring the Price and Affordability of Foods and Diets Globally.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 14, 2013, pp. 83.
  6. Horning, Melissa L., and Jayne A. Fulkerson. “A Systematic Review on the Affordability of a Healthful Diet for Families in the United States.” Public Health Nursing, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 68-80.
  7. Rao, Mayuree, et al. “Do Healthier Foods and Diet Patterns Cost More than Less Healthy Options? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” BMJ Open, vol. 3, 2013, pp. 7.
  8. Darmon, Nicole, and Adam Drenowski 647.
  9. Lee, A., et al. 82.
  10. “We Are What We Eat. Healthy Eating Trends Around the World.” Nielsen. Web.
  11. “We Are What We Eat” 16.
  12. “Why Do You Choose to Eat Fast Food?” Statista. Web.
  13. Smith, Lindsey P., et al. “Trends in US Home Food Preparation and Consumption: Analysis of National Nutrition Surveys and Time Use Studies From 1965–1966 to 2007–2008”. Nutrition Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, 2013, p. 2.
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