Have American Diets Improved?

We are constantly told things like: "Americans have a national eating disorder" (that's Michael Pollen in Omnivore's Dilemma) or that Americans live in a "toxic food environment" (that's Kelly Brownell in the book Food Fight).

How does that hyperbole match up with the facts?  

Maybe Americans were eating poorly in the past.  But are they eating better today?

Recently released research by Tim Beatty, Biing-Hwan Lin and Travis Smith in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics suggests the answer is "yes" - we are eating better.

They write:

Conventional wisdom maintains that the quality of the American diet has been deteriorating for at least the past two decades. In contrast, we document a previously unknown pattern of improvement in U.S. dietary quality. We find statistically significant improvements for all adults over the period 1989–2008, at all levels of dietary quality.


Although we find that higher-income individuals consistently have higher dietary quality than low-income individuals, we also find some evidence that the gap is shrinking over the sample period.


We also show that most of the improvement in dietary quality can be attributed to changes in food formulation and changes in demographics. Moreover, we find that changes in food formulation help explain considerably more of the improvement in dietary quality for low-income individuals than for higher-income individuals.