Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Lip Service

It’s a mystery: Americans keep saying they’re eating a healthier diet, but it somehow never gets healthful enough to save them from putting on weight. The findings of a survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation sustain this pattern.

Sixty-six percent of adults said they’ve made changes in what they eat “to improve the healthfulness of their diet”—up from 57 percent saying so last year. One sign they mean business would be if they’re eating more fruits and vegetables. But they’re not. Twelve percent said they’re eating at least five servings per day, on a par with last year. This year, they’re averaging 2.52 servings—down a lettuce leaf from last year’s 2.53. Gauging their overall diet, 7 percent rated it “extremely healthful,” 51 percent “somewhat healthful,” 22 percent “neither healthful nor unhealthful,” 17 percent “not very healthful” and 3 percent “not at all healthful.”

Looking at specific food elements, the study found more people saying they try to cut their intake of high-fructose corn syrup—60 percent this year, 54 percent last year. The shift is more dramatic where trans fats are concerned: 75 percent said they’re trying to consume less of those, vs. 54 percent saying so last year.

Among people who consult the Nutrition Facts Panel when buying groceries, calories and total fat get the most attention (each noted by 73 percent of label readers), followed by trans fats and sugars (63 percent apiece) and sodium (60 percent). But many people must come away with a distorted idea of how much they’re getting of these things, as just 49 percent look at the serving size—which, sadly, tends to be smaller than they imagine.

For all their good intentions about cleaning up their dietary act, people can’t easily get past their love of food that tastes good. The chart at left shows healthfulness lagging on the hierarchy of factors shaping their choices. Moreover, virtue at mealtime may be sabotaged by self-indulgence at other times. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they eat snacks at least twice a day, including 10 percent who do so four or five times daily and 9 percent who snack at least six times a day.