Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a study evaluating whether access to nutrition information (like the nutrition facts label on packaged foods, MyPlate, and calorie counts on restaurant menus) actually translated into Americans making healthy food choices.
Spoiler: It doesn’t.
Americans who report using the widest variety of resources to inform their diet choices only scored 3.6 percent higher than medium information users on the USDA’s 2010 Healthy Eating Index. They also scored fewer than 10 points higher than those who don’t report using available nutrition information to inform their food choices. On a 100-point scale, even the most health-informed Americans scored a 56 on average – which is still an F.
Perhaps the most telling bit of information comes from comparing groceries to food eaten at restaurants and other places outside the home. Food purchased and eaten away from home scores an average 43 points on the Healthy Eating Index, and that number is pretty uniform no matter how much nutrition information people report using. However, as nutrition information use increases, people do make healthier choices when buying groceries.
So what does the data mean? Consumers know how to make healthy choices – but when deciding between a salad or a pizza when both are right in front of you, consumers go with their gut. A whopping 75 percent of consumers report that healthy food just doesn’t taste good.
The survey suggests that adding nutrition information to restaurants, at least, won’t have much of an impact when it comes to encouraging consumers to eat healthier. Adding more fruits, vegetables, fiber, or protein to recipes and expanding the availability of healthy food that looks and sounds tasty may give health-interested restauranteurs a better bang for their buck.