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A recent report measuring the extent to which U.S. consumers adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with their food-at-home purchases, as well as the impact of selected demographic and market factors on food purchase healthfulness, has found that Americans have a long way to go in terms of picking stores’ most nutritious items.
According to “Assessing the Healthfulness of Consumers’ Grocery Purchases” by Richard Volpe and Abigail Okrent, few households meet the guidelines when food shopping, as consumers buy too few fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and too many refined grains, fats and added sugars.
Additional findings included:
- The healthfulness of the average consumer food shopping basket didn’t improve noticeably between 1998 and 2006. Although households moved from refined grains toward whole grains, they allocate less of their food budgets to fruits and vegetables and more toward processed and packaged foods.
- Food purchase behavior varies across some demographic and market segments, but all subgroups fall short of meeting the guidelines.
- Consumers in the Northeast and West typically purchase more healthful food than consumers in the Midwest or South.
- Higher-income shoppers, on average, buy slightly more healthful food than lower-income shoppers do.
- Whites and Asians usually purchase more healthful foods than Blacks and other non-Asian minorities do.
- Market concentration, defined by the number and size of retailers within a market, has a small negative effect on the healthfulness of consumers’ food purchases.
The study, which is available in its entirety online through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, employs self-reported purchase data from the Nielsen Homescan database for the years 1998 through 2006.