Americans’ Eating Habits Worsen

Poll Shows Nation’s Health Habits, From Diet to Exercise, Are Slipping

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 15, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

June 15, 2011 -- A new survey shows Americans’ health habits are getting worse. The main culprit: eating habits.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index reports a score of 63.8 in May, down from 65.2 the same month last year. The health habits of adults have been worse in each of the past three months than in the same period in 2010.

Fewer Americans reported eating healthily in May 2011 than last year, with the index for healthy eating dropping to 66.2 from 68.2.

Americans Aren’t Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies

What’s more, Americans aren’t eating as many fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis as they did in 2010.

Gallup says in a news release that 4.5 million fewer Americans ate healthfully in May 2011 than in the same month last year.

But diet isn’t the only reason the overall index dropped.

The poll suggests that more Americans are smoking. Gallup says 20.8% of people polled in May said they smoked, up from 20.2% in the same month in 2010.

Other key findings:

  • The percentage of people who exercised for a half hour or more at least three days in the previous week dropped from 53.6% to 52.9%.
  • The percentage of people who had five or more servings of fruits and vegetables at least four days in the previous week before being polled dropped from 57.8% to 55.9%.

The index is based on a survey by Gallup and Healthways of 1,000 randomly selected adults aged 18 and older living in the U.S.

They are asked if they smoke, whether they exercised at least 30 minutes for at least three days in the past week, whether they ate healthily the day before, and whether they ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables for at least four days in the last week.

Economy to Blame?

Fewer Americans across demographic groups are eating fruits and vegetables frequently, but produce consumption is down most among young adults, seniors, women, and Hispanics, compared to May 2010.

Gallup says Hispanics and young people were by far the least likely to eat produce frequently in 2011, with less than half of each group getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables at least four days per week.

Gallup says it’s possible the decline in the overall Healthy Behavior Index is related to sharp increases in gas prices, which may induce some people to eat less expensive, less healthy foods. And the financial crisis may be partly to blame, too, Gallup says.

The May results are surprising because May typically kicks off the four strongest months of the year in healthy eating behaviors.

The poll's margin of error is +/- 0.6 percentage points.