Healthy Eating In America: A Work In Progress

As many Americans set an eye on more healthful eating in 2010, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data reveals mixed results on two key metrics in 2009 compared with 2008. While the percentage of Americans saying they ate healthfully all day yesterday improved slightly in 2009 (to 66.4 percent from 65.9 percent in 2008), the percentage reporting eating five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables on at least four days in the previous week slipped to 55.6 percent in 2009, down slightly from the 56.4 percent measured the year before.

Gallup and Healthways asked at least 1,000 randomly selected Americans each day, 350 days a year, about their eating habits. Specifically, respondents are asked to report on whether they ate “healthy all day yesterday” and, out of the last seven days, how many days did they “have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables.”

At the state level, a substantial range exists in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, with the best-eating states typically found in the West and Northeast, while the worst eating is measured among states found in the Great Plains. Vermont, followed by Wyoming, Maine, New Hampshire, and Hawaii are the only five states where at least 60 percent of residents have at least five servings at least four days each week. In contrast, the states with the poorest produce eating habits are led by Nebraska, with just 50.4 percent of residents exhibiting substantive produce consumption, followed by Oklahoma, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Indiana.

Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables also plays an important role in obesity reduction. The 10 states with the greatest and most consistent diet of fruits and vegetables carry an average obesity rate of 24.6 percent, nearly two full percentage points lower than the national 2009 rate of 26.5 percent. The 10 states with the least robust produce diet, however, carry an average obesity rate of 28 percent. If the Bottom 10 worst-eating states had the same obesity rate as the Top 10 best-eating states, close to 1.8 million fewer people would be obese in those 10 states alone.

The good news for Americans seeking to improve their healthful eating habits is that the perceived affordability of fruits and vegetables is on the rise. In 11 out of 12 months of 2009, Americans were more likely than in 2008 to say that it is easy to get affordable fruits and vegetables in the city or area where they live, and for the entire year, 91.9 percent of respondents said this was the case, compared with 89.7 percent in 2008, a statistically significant increase. These improvements are important for policymakers and consumers alike, as this marked elevation of access to affordable produce serves as an important vanguard to healthful eating habits. Americans who say they have easy access to affordable fruits and vegetables are more likely to report having eaten healthfully the day before and to have consumed at least five servings of fruits and vegetables at least four days per week than those who say they do not have easy access.

Given these results, the policy implications for leaders who care about wellness may be significant, as it appears that a substantial means of having an impact on Americans’ healthful eating habits — and important corollaries, such as obesity — is likely within our society’s grasp through enhanced portals of disseminating affordable, accessible produce to the American public.

Survey Methods: For the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide each day and at least 350,000 surveys in each calendar year, yielding results with a maximum expected error range of ±0.2 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for most states is ±1-2 percentage points but is as high as ±3.5 percentage points for smaller states such as Wyoming, North Dakota South Dakota, and Hawaii. Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, in English and in Spanish. To learn more, please visit