American Adults Consume Twice the Recommended Amount of Junk Food


Apr 26, 2012

a measuring tape wrapped around a bathroom scale

Is eating more fruits and vegetables the key to reducing obesity? Evidence suggests this may not be the most effective strategy. A recent RAND study of more than 2,700 adults found that calorie intake from cookies, candy, salty snacks, and soda was approximately twice as high as the recommended daily amount. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, is only 20% shy of recommended guidelines.

Still, eating extra fruit adds more in total calories than it displaces in calories you would have otherwise consumed through junk food. For example, on average, eating one additional serving of fruit reduces about 16 calories from junk food, but it adds 70 calories to your daily total. Therefore, eating less junk food appears more important for reducing obesity than eating more fruit and veggies.

How can we get people to eat less junk food? The jury is still out on whether putting supermarkets in "food deserts" will help curb obesity. A recent RAND study showed that the number of supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, and convenience stores near children's and teens' homes and schools was not closely related to diet quality or Body Mass Index (BMI).

Translating this knowledge into action could help reduce the heavy burden obesity places on the healthcare system. Medicare will spend about $38,000 more over the lifetime of an obese 70-year-old than it will spend on a 70-year-old of normal weight. And reducing obesity by 50% could reduce Medicare spending between 2005 and 2030 by about $1.2 billion.