The United States of America is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Despite this, they have one of the most unhealthy populations with decreasing access to healthy, fresh food. The standard American diet is one that, while cheap, promotes a whole host of health issues, including diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, for many, it’s all they can afford. There are things that the government can start doing, however, to make a healthier diet more accessible for all. Here are seven ways this can happen.
What Is The Standard American Diet?
The standard American diet is making Americans sick, there’s no question about it. Diabetes and heart disease are rampant, and diet-related deaths outrank smoking-related deaths in the country and around the world. There are almost 900 deaths daily in the United States related to poor diet. When you abbreviate the “standard American diet”, it makes the short-form S.A.D. – and sad it is (1, 2):
- 65% of Americans’ calories come from refined and processed foods like pop, packaged snacks such as potato chips, and packaged desserts.
- 25% come from animal-based foods.
- 12% come from plant-based foods.
- Half of the plant-based calories (so 6%) come from french fries.
This means that only 6% of the calories that most Americans consume daily come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Looking at the stats, it’s not hard to see why so many people in the United States suffer from chronic diseases, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and more.
Ways We Can Improve The Standard American Diet
In order to make the standard American diet one that promotes health rather than disease, there are a few things that need to be changed. These changes need to be in policy, in the medical system, in our schools, and in how we make food available to the underprivileged. These are just seven things that, if put in place, could drastically improve the standard American diet and improve the health of the nation.
1. Food as Preventative Medicine
Western medicine is decisively reactive rather than proactive. We wait until someone is sick, then we prescribe medicines to try and make them better or manage their symptoms. If instead we intervened earlier and helped them improve their diet and lifestyle, many of the health problems Americans face could be avoided.
Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, says that there is a movement to better integrate food and nutrition into healthcare. This movement includes actually prescribing and providing healthy meals and/or healthy groceries to patients to help manage diet-related illnesses. There is increasing amounts of evidence that fruit and vegetable prescriptions actually work at improving people’s health outcomes. There are projects being piloted around the country where health care systems or insurers provide or pay for healthy groceries, as well as provide nutrition education, to help people improve their eating habits. (3, 4)
Another option is medically prescribing and providing tailored meals to help those who are already sick to reverse their chronic diseases. There is currently a pilot project by the federal government where Medicaid or Medicare pays for these meals in several states. (5)
Read: Why the Government Controls the Color of Our Food