U.S. retail food sales do not align with Federal dietary recommendations

This chart shows the Healthy Eating Index, or HEI-205 score and component scores.

Newly established links between retail food sales data and USDA nutrition databases now allow researchers to study the healthfulness of Americans’ purchases at retail stores. ERS researchers scored the healthfulness of retail food sales using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2015), a measure that summarizes how well a set of foods conforms to the recommendations in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. In the Healthy Eating Index, the maximum possible score is 100, indicating conformance to Federal recommendations for 13 dietary components encompassing food groups (fruit, dairy, whole grains) and dietary elements (added sugars, fatty acids, sodium). For the nine adequacy components that make up a healthy diet, a high score indicates Americans are purchasing a sufficient amount of foods in these groups. A high score among the four components that nutritionists advise to consume in moderation indicates Americans are keeping purchases of foods containing these components in check. In total, retail food sales in 2013 scored 55, suggesting purchases are not well aligned with Federal dietary recommendations. Scores for whole grains, greens and beans, dairy, sodium, and added sugars were each below 50 percent of their maximum possible scores. This chart appears in the article “New Data Linkages Provide Healthfulness Measures for American Grocery Store Sales” from the June 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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