Veterans’ diets scored higher on dairy and refined grains, but lower on empty calories

Veterans’ diets scored higher on dairy and refined grains, but lower on empty calories

USDA and the National Cancer Institute developed the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) to measure how closely the foods and beverages that an individual consumes align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Higher scores indicate a higher degree of compliance with recommendations. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used self-reported food intake data to compare veterans’ and nonveterans’ diets. After controlling for economic and demographic differences—for example, veterans tend to be older and are more often male—veterans’ and nonveterans’ average scores differed for three dietary components. Veterans scored higher on components for dairy products and refined grains, but lower on the empty calories component (meaning that empty calories accounted for a larger share of their total calories). In the HEI-2010, 12 component scores for specific food groups and subgroups—with maximum values ranging from 5 to 20—sum to a total score that measures overall diet quality, with a maximum value of 100. Veterans attained an average total HEI of 45.6 out of 100 versus 49.3 for nonveterans. The data for this chart come from the December 2019 ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality. Veterans’ diet quality is also discussed in the February 2020 Amber Waves article, “Much Like Other Americans, Veterans Would Benefit From Improving the Quality of Their Diets.”