The Healthy Eating Index logo.
This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
Have you ever heard of the Healthy Eating Index? The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) measures the quality of Americans’ food choices. At USDA we use the HEI to see how closely Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate. The HEI assigns scores to diets on a scale in which the maximum score of 100 indicates that the diet meets all Dietary Guidelines recommendations. The HEI shows us that the diets of most Americans could use some improvement. For example, HEI scores for 2007-08 averaged about 53.5 points out of 100 points, and these scores have not changed substantially since 2001-02. Using the HEI we can also compare how food choices and overall diet quality differ among males and females and in certain age groups, such as HEI scores for children and adolescents.
The HEI includes 12 components, each of which measures one aspect of dietary quality. These components represent all of the key Dietary Guidelines food choice recommendations. Nine of the components focus on the types of foods that Americans should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Three components focus on foods or nutrients that are over consumed and Americans should eat less of, including refined grains, sodium, and calories from solid fats and added sugars (empty calories). Read more »
Everyone wants to save money at the grocery store, especially those on a tight budget. The new Healthy Eating on a Budget section of ChooseMyPlate.gov empowers cost-conscious consumers to make healthy choices with insightful information about meal planning, smart shopping ideas, and creating healthy meals with simple ingredients. Web-based trends indicate that consumers continue to look for information about how to make better eating decisions with limited resources. Healthy Eating on a Budget offers a step-by-step game plan to help families save money and make nutritious meals at home.
Recent scores from the USDA Healthy Eating Index indicate that Americans can struggle to meet recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Most of us need to increase our intake of whole fruit, dark-green and orange vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy. Cost is often considered a barrier to eating healthier and the new resource will help consumers overcome this perception. Read more »
Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.
As many schools wind down for the year, USDA is gearing up for exciting new improvements designed to make the 2014-2015 school year even healthier for our nation’s future leaders. It’s a commitment rooted in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In that legislation, USDA is directed to update the school meals to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The new school meal requirements are intended to ensure children get the nutrition they need for academic performance and overall health. That’s a mission USDA takes seriously. Feeding kids, and feeding them well, can be a challenge. I understand that as a former school nutrition director, mother, and now grandmother. Plus, we know that change, in general, can be difficult. That is why we are working closely with schools to make sure the transition to the updated standards runs as smoothly as possible. We are listening to what school nutritional professionals, teachers, parents and students are telling us. These partners are the heart and soul of the school community and we have provided flexibilities based on their important feedback. Read more »
USDA and HHS are in the process of developing dietary guidelines for infants and children under two years old, based on the latest in nutrition science.
Good nutrition is vital to optimal infant and toddler growth, development, and health. The importance of this age group has been emphasized by First Lady Michelle Obama, who said that “If our kids get into the habit of getting up and playing, if their palates warm up to veggies at an early age, and if they’re not glued to a TV screen all day, they’re on their way to healthy habits for life.” So, making sure that even the youngest infants and toddlers are on the road to a healthy life is critical, and having national dietary guidance for infants and children from birth to 24 months can help make this happen.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provides sound advice for making food and physical activity choices that promote good health and a healthy weight, and help prevent disease for Americans, including Americans at increased risk of chronic disease. The DGA has traditionally focused on adults and children 2 years of age and older. Infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age have not been a focus in previous versions of the DGA because of their unique nutritional needs, eating patterns, and developmental stages. Read more »
The USDA Nutrition Evidence Library specializes in systematic reviews of research on food and nutrition, providing a scientific foundation for evidence-based decisions by federal policymakers and program managers.
During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, such as laying the foundation for evidence-based food and nutrition policies and programs by compiling and reviewing the best available nutrition research.
Ever wonder what the science says about the foods we eat, the beverages we drink, and our health? Or whether there is evidence to show how best to educate kids about a healthy diet?
If so, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL). The NEL specializes in doing systematic reviews, or pulling together the best available research to answer important food and nutrition-related questions. These reviews provide the scientific foundation that allows Federal policies and programs to be based on the strongest available evidence. Using this evidence-based approach also helps USDA comply with the Data Quality Act, which states that Federal agencies must ensure the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information used to form Federal guidance. Read more »
Nutritional research is key to helping millions of Americans achieve healthier lifestyles.
During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, such as using research to inform policy decisions about our nutrition assistance programs, which reach 1 in 4 Americans.
America’s nutrition safety net has a broad reach. SNAP serves millions of hardworking American families, WIC benefits about half of the nation’s infants each year, and the National School Lunch Program touches the lives of about 31 million children every school day, including 21 million low-income children. Because these and other Federal nutrition assistance programs are a critical resource for families seeking a healthy diet with limited resources, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service knows the importance of shaping them with evidence gathered from rigorous research.
Several flagship studies illustrate how FNS uses research to build the knowledge base about our programs and make continuous improvements to meet the highest nutrition standards: Read more »