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Fewer Americans Report Healthy Eating Habits in 2011

Fewer Americans Report Healthy Eating Habits in 2011

by Megan Cochrane

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' self-reported healthy eating habits dipped slightly in 2011, after improving in 2010. The percentage of Americans reporting they ate healthy all day "yesterday" declined to 66.1% in 2011 from 67.7% in 2010. Likewise, 56.0% of Americans reported eating five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables on at least four days in the previous week last year, down from 57.1% in 2010. As a result, the gains observed from 2009 to 2010 were essentially undone last year.

healthy eating habits in the U.S.

Gallup and Healthways ask at least 1,000 Americans each day about their eating habits as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The data reported here are based on yearly aggregates of more than 350,000 interviews per year.

Americans' decreased consumption of healthy food in 2011 may be related to their ability to access fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables in their community. Slightly fewer Americans said they had access to affordable fruits and vegetables in 2011 (90.8%) than in 2010 (92.3%).

Still, the vast majority of Americans report having access to affordable produce, which is better than is the case in many countries. Thus, because access to fresh fruits and vegetables is widespread in the U.S., it appears that health problems related to healthy eating -- such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease -- are less a reflection of access to proper foods and more Americans' lifestyle choices pertaining to food choice and exercise. Gallup and Healthways also observed this trend of healthy eating trailing access to fresh produce in 2010, highlighting the challenge for those who are encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Produce Consumption Higher During Winter 2012 Compared With 2011

In terms of fruit and vegetable consumption, this year is off to a better start compared with last year. While Americans generally tend to make less healthy choices in winter months, more Americans ate fresh fruits and vegetables frequently this winter than last winter. The percentage of Americans who ate fresh fruit and vegetables frequently in January (55.7%), February (57.4%), and March (57.4%) 2012 were higher than in the same months in 2011.

servings of fruits and veggies

This year-over-year increase in healthy behaviors mirrors the increase in frequent exercise Gallup and Healthways also found this winter. The unusually warm winter weather, the fourth warmest on U.S. record, could be a contributing factor to the increased level of produce consumption and exercise.

However, the warm weather has not seemed to have an effect on Americans' healthy eating habits "all day yesterday." So far this trend shows that a slightly lower percentage of Americans reported eating healthier in January (67.4%), February (66.6%), and March (66.7%) 2012 compared with the same months in 2011.

Americans' Access to Affordable Fruits and Vegetables Lower During Winter 2012

The monthly trend for Americans reporting easy access to affordable produce this winter has not improved compared with the same months in 2011. In February 2012, 90.5% of Americans reported having access to fruits and vegetables, compared with 91.2% in February 2011. This monthly trend continues the annual decline in access seen in 2011. The decreased access to produce may account for the dip in Americans reporting they ate healthy all day yesterday. While the numbers have decreased since their peak in 2010, the data show that nine out of 10 Americans have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their community.

access to fruits and veggies

Bottom Line

Healthy eating can help reduce people's risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer, as well as help them maintain a healthy body weight. Good eating habits mean consuming various nutritious foods and beverages, especially vegetables, fruits, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products; limiting intake of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium; and balancing caloric intake with calories burned to manage body weight.

Gallup and Healthways data indicate that eating healthy food is challenging for many Americans -- a little more than half (56.0%) of whom reported eating fresh fruits and vegetables frequently and 66.1% reporting they ate healthy all day yesterday. While for some access to healthy foods may be an issue, for most, it is not -- almost all Americans (90.8%) said they have access to affordable fruits and vegetables in their community.

Fortunately, although Americans' eating habits slightly worsened in 2011, they improved this winter compared with last winter. This may simply be a product of a warmer than usual winter season. Gallup and Healthways will continue to monitor and report on trends in Americans' eating and exercise habits to monitor if the recent improvements continue.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011, with a random sample of 335,050 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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