The Growing Diet Divide Between Rich and Poor in America

Anna Vlasits | STAT | June 21, 2016

Much has been written about the growing income inequality in the United States. But another kind of gap is also widening between us, and it’s at the dinner table. Overall, Americans are eating better. In the decade leading up to 2012, the number of people eating a poor diet fell from around 56 percent to under 46 percent. But if you separate people out by income, it’s a different story.

High-income Americans are eating better than ever — swapping fruit juice for whole fruits, replacing refined grains with whole grains, and eating tons of nuts — while the low-income group has improved much more modestly. In other words, much like our politics and our incomes, the way Americans eat is becoming more and more divided. Over the years, researchers have surveyed people to find out what they’re eating, asking them to report every little detail of the previous 24 to 48 hours’ worth of meals. From that, they’ve plotted various trends — sodium intake, amount of potatoes eaten, etc.

To get a glimpse of the overall healthiness of people’s diets, scientists used a rating system from the American Heart Association. The AHA’s ideal diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish, while minimizing sugar, salt, processed meat, and saturated fat. People who meet less than two-fifths of these goals were classified as having a poor diet; those in the range up to 80 percent were classed as having an intermediate diet...