While the USDA Economic Research Service’s report on diet quality among working age adults between 2005 and 2010 shows consumers are getting fewer calories from fat and saturated fat, consuming less cholesterol and eating more fiber, it provides no detail about dietary patterns related to specific food groups – be it fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy or grains.

USDA diet quality report lacks important nutrition detailsThe report, Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010, used data from three rounds of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – before, during and after the recession. It compared caloric intake, calories from food away from home (FAFH) and fast food, total number of meals and snacks consumed in a day, total number of meals and snacks from FAFH were compared. The four measures of diet quality used in the study were percent of calories front fat and from saturated fat, total cholesterol intake and total fiber intake.

According to the report:

  • On average, daily caloric intake declined by 188 calories (about 5 percent) between 2005 and 2010 among working age adults.
  • Calories consumed through FAFH dropped by 127 calories per day and the average person ate three fewer meals and 1.5 fewer snacks per month away from home.
  • The share of calories from fat declined 1.12 percentage points and from saturated fat declined by 0.67 percentage points.
  • Intake of cholesterol declined by 24 milligrams per day and fiber intake increased by 1.2 grams per day.
  • 42 percent of working age adults and 57 percent of older adults reported using the Nutrition Facts Panel to make food decisions.
  • Reduced consumption of FAFH accounted for less than 20 percent of the improvements in diet quality.
  • In 2010 compared with 2007, working age adults were less likely to answer than thinness or fatness is something with which people are born, suggesting that more individuals recognize weight is within individual control.

A news release from USDA touted efforts of the Obama administration, such as USDA’s MyPlate symbol to help Americans follow the 2010 dietary guidelines, USDA’s SuperTracker tool, the recent changes to the National School Lunch Program, increasing the number of farmer’s markets that accept SNAP benefits, and USDA’s Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program, to improve food choices, diet quality and access to healthy food.

We’re all allowed to our own opinions about the merits of each of the programs mentioned above. Overall, though, instead of turning a scientific study into a political tool to tout the Obama administration, this report would have provided much more beneficial information if it had looked at consumption rates of key food groups to better understand the decisions working age adults are making to follow a well-balanced diet. How has consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables changed over the years? Where are consumers getting most of their protein, and how have those patterns changed? What attributed to the increase in fiber? How have physical exercise amounts changed among working age adults? Those are questions to which I'd like to see answers. Those are the questions that may help farmers and ranchers adapt their operations to meet changing consumer demand and preferences, instead of references to USDA programs that were only in place for, at most, the final two years of this study.