U.S. consumers’ grocery purchases fall short for healthfulness

November 13, 2012

Some recent studies have illustrated the harmful effects of food away from home (FAFH) on Americans’ diets, but food choices made by consumers when grocery shopping may also affect diet quality. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) has released a study that looks at the healthfulness of consumers’ grocery purchases. The report measures the extent to which U.S. consumers are adhering to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with their food-at-home (FAH) purchases and the role of selected demographic and market factors on food purchase healthfulness.

The study found that Americans have a long way to go in conforming to dietary guidelines with their FAH purchases. Very few households meet the guidelines when food shopping. Consumers purchase too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and too many refined grains, fats, and added sugars. The healthfulness of the average consumer food shopping basket did not improve noticeably between 1998 and 2006. Households shifted from refined grains toward whole grains, but allocate less of their food budgets to fruits and vegetables and more toward processed and packaged foods.

Although food purchase behavior varies across some demographic and market segments, all subgroups fall short of meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. When comparing consumers across regions of the country, those in the Northeast and West typically purchase more healthful food than consumers in the Midwest or South. In addition, higher income shoppers, on average, purchase slightly more healthful food than do lower income shoppers. In terms of differences across races, Caucasians and Asians typically purchase more healthful foods than African Americans and other non-Asian minorities.

Report summary (pdf)