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A study shows that adults in the United States often overestimate the quality of their diet

How healthy is your diet? It seems like a simple question, but according to a new study, it’s one that most Americans struggle to get right.

Jessica Thompson, PhD, a research epidemiologist, said: “We found that only a small percentage of adults in the United States can accurately assess the health of their diet, and interestingly, those who perceive their diet to be poor are often the ones who can rate their diet. food strictly. with the USDA Agricultural Research Service Southeast, lead author of the study. “In addition, most adults exaggerate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a significant degree.”

Thomson will present the results online at NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE, the premier annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association held June 14-16.

The researchers wanted to see if one simple question could be used as a screening tool for nutrition studies – to replace or complete detailed nutritional questionnaires commonly used in nutrition research. Previous studies have found that self-rated health is a strong predictor of morbidity and mortality, but there is little research on whether self-rated diet quality is predictive of actual diet quality.

The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey of adults in the United States conducted every two years. Participants were asked to complete detailed 24-h nutritional recall questionnaires and rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.

The researchers used food withdrawal questionnaires to assess the quality of each participant’s diet. Examples of foods classified as healthy include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, seafood, and plant proteins. Foods considered less healthy include refined grains and foods high in sodium and added sugars or saturated fats.

The study revealed significant gaps between the results the researcher calculated and how the participants rated their diet. Of the more than 9,700 participants, about 8,000 (about 85%) inaccurately rated the quality of their diet. Of those, nearly all (99%) overestimated how healthy their diet was.

Surprisingly, accuracy was highest among those who rated their diet as poor, and among them, the researcher’s score matched the participants’ rating 97% of the time. The proportion of participants who accurately rated the quality of their diet ranged from 1% to 18% in the other four rating categories.

Thompson said more research could help clarify the factors people take into account when asked to rate the quality of their diet. For example, it would be useful to know if people are aware of certain dietary recommendations and whether they take into account where to buy their food or how it is prepared.

“It’s hard for us to say whether adults in the United States lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthy versus unhealthy diet or whether adults are as aware of how healthy their diet is as they would like – higher quality than it actually is,” Thompson said. “Until we have a better understanding of what individuals think when assessing the health of their diet, it will be difficult to determine the knowledge and skills needed to improve self-assessment or perception of diet quality.”

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