Home / Health / Articles / Are Americans meeting federal dietary guidelines?

Since 1980, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly published science-based dietary guidelines every five years to help Americans improve their health and reduce their risk of chronic diseases. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans report was published in 2020.

How does the government measure what Americans eat?

The USDA and HHS periodically conduct the What We Eat in America (WWEIA) survey as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey began in 2001 and is a two-day process: an in-person interview on the first day and a telephone interview on the second. Both interviews collect diet data, such as the types and estimated quantities of foods each participant eats over 24 hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also runs the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Established in 1984, BRFSS conducts telephone surveys to collect information about US residents’ health risks and chronic conditions. While the survey does not focus on food or nutrition, the findings often include diet-related information.

Before WWEIA and other current data collection methods, the government measured American diets by conducting various food consumption studies and distributing nationwide questionnaires.

What government data says about the American diet

Most Americans fall short of meeting the Dietary Guidelines recommendations. Over 50% of Americans consume at or above the recommended amount of grains and proteins but don’t meet the recommendations for each subgroup within the grain and protein food groups.

The NHANES survey also indicated that over 80% of Americans have diets too low in vegetables, fruit, and dairy. A 2019 CDC report stated that 12.3% of American adults met the suggested fruit intake, and 10% met vegetable consumption goals.

Fruits and vegetable consumption by state/territory

According to the CDC, 39.9% of adults consumed fruit less than once daily in 2021. Puerto Rico had the nation’s highest percentage of fruit-deficient adults — 51.1% of its population ate fruit less than once daily — followed by Oklahoma (48.7%) and Louisiana (48.6%).

Washington, DC, residents lead in eating fruits — two-thirds of residents ate fruit once a day or more — followed by people in Vermont at 34.4% and Maine at 35%.

Embed on your website

Additionally, 20.6% of adult Americans reported consuming vegetables less than once daily in 2021. Puerto Rico again led the nation in vegetable under-consumption: 46.6% of Puerto Ricans eat vegetables less than once daily, followed by Virgin Islanders at 32.2% and Guamanians at 29.4%.

Maine has the most vegetable consumption. Nearly 87% of Mainers eat vegetables once a day or more, followed by Vermonters at 14.1% and New Hampshirites at 15.6%.

Embed on your website

Consumption of sugary drinks by state/territory

According to the CDC, 15.1% of adolescent Americans consumed soda daily in 2019. West Virginia had the highest number of students in grades 9–12 who reported drinking soda at least once a day at 27.9%, followed by Kentucky at 25.6% and Puerto Rico at 25.2%.

Embed on your website

The impacts of the modern American diet

Poor dietary patterns and eating habits are associated with health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Research shows that obesity rates in the US have risen over the last 60 years, with 32% of American adults considered obese in 2021; roughly 13% of Americans were considered obese by CDC guidelines in 1960.

Learn more about obesity rates and get the data directly in your inbox by signing up for our email newsletter.

USDA Nationwide Food Surveys, 1935-1998
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System