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Nation’s Diet in Crisis

Survey reveals the vast majority of Americans are not eating healthy even by U.S. dietary guideline standards.

October 19, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



In 2010 the USDA officially revised the U.S. dietary guidelines, which raises the question how have we been doing with the old guidelines? What’s wrong with the standard American Diet?

This is a table reporting compliance with the 2005 guidelines, which were not particularly stringent. For example, they recommend we should eat at least one serving of whole fruit a day, yet three quarters of Americans couldn’t even attain that one a day. And look at college age men and women 90% couldn’t even grab half a banana or something all day long.

For vegetables we did even worse. About 9 out of 10% of Americans couldn’t even reach the minimum and don’t get me started on dark green vegetables. For example, the recommended minimum intake of dark green vegetables for 9 to 13 year kids? a fifth of a cup a day—and they even consider romaine lettuce a dark green leafy. Yet only about 1 in 500 kids eat a single leaf of romaine lettuce. 97% of Americans don’t couldn’t bother with a carrot, 96% noncompliant with legumes, 99% of Americans don’t eat even the measly minimum of whole grains.

And then to top it all off, junk foods. You want to know how lax the federal regulations are? A quarter of our calories are allowed to be empty calorie junk foods. A quarter of our diet can be cotton candy and we're still OK under the government recommendations.

Still, how many Americans couldn’t even keep it up that? 95% of Americans exceed their maximum discretionary calorie allowances. And look at children. Only 1 in a thousand American children eats even marginally healthy, by ensuring less than a quarter of their calories aren’t completely wasted, the equivalent to eating less than 24 spoonfuls of sugar a day. One in a thousand kids can manage that. And we wonder why there’s a childhood obesity epidemic—and adults too!

“In conclusion… nearly the entire U.S. population consumes a diet that is not on par with recommendations. These findings add another piece to the rather disturbing picture that is emerging of a nation’s diet in crisis.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on dietary guidelines, children and those sneaky empty calories. And don't forget, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

Be sure to check out my associated blog post for additional context: Industry Influence on Dietary Guidelines

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on dietary guidelines, children and those sneaky empty calories. And don’t forget, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • Victor Van Epps

    great video. If you would recommend one journal for a busy biology student to read to keep up with the latest nutrition research, what would it be? This site is great..please do not ever stop doing it. I have already handed it off to several people with cardiovascular disease. Thanks, Victor

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      My favorite journal is probably the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, but I strive to at least skim through every issue of most every English-language nutrition journal in the world (see my list here). The few you’ll note missing from my list are mostly industry journals (like New Horizons In Nutrition And Health, published by the Butter Council), which are great for comic relief but don’t make my must-read list.

  • mari_k

    I do not see how it could be correct that 99.9% of 2-3 year olds exceed the recommendation for solid fats and sugars. Could you comment on the methodology of the study?

  • Mike Quinoa


    You can see the complete study by clinking on the link provided in the “Sources Cited” section. Then click on “Free PMC Article” at bottom right of paragraph to view the whole thing. The article has a section devoted to “Materials and Methods.”

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you Mike! I changed the Sources link to make people direct to the PDF:

      • Mike Quinoa

        Thanks Dr. Greger. I meant to say “clicking” on the link, not “clinking.” I guess my Mac Mini can’t read my mind (lol).

  • Tim Tango

    And it Scotland (and I’m sure here as well), we’re treating our pets to the same diet.

  • Eric Needs

    WOW, these facts disgust me. I guess I chose the right line of work.

  • The Ironist

    Would you please add this soundtrack? It just goes so well. :-)

  • AS_yes

    I want to be a nutritionist for children…
    I was going to be diabetic at age of 10 and it was horrible I changed my diet and now I’m good and I want to inspire kids to do the same to make them feel that they are worth more then just some fat kid who nobody likes. What would be the best school to study for that?

    • Don Forrester MD

      Unfortunately there isn’t a good school for this that I am aware of. I advise people to go to the best program they can and keep up with the new science via commercial free websites like NutritionFacts, Dr. McDougall and PCRM. Read the literature and join the debate in your program. Write papers and include research supporting your position. Good luck with your journey whether it goes toward being a registered dietician, registered nurse or health provider… nurse practitioner, physician assistant, DO, MD plus others.

  • bobluhrs

    Hi, Dr. Greger, thanks again for your work, everyone should have the information and contribute to its continuance, before they get sick, but anytime is also good.

    This video was listed as part of series, I am wondering if the series can be presented one after the other? In other words, I’d like to click “go” on the series. Am I missing somewhere that you click to ‘view series’ ? Maybe it’s not so easy to do, I don’t know, but would be helpful if it could be.

    Sometimes I just need a short video on a point, but most of the time, the information is new to me, and I find a few short videos on the same topic are much better than a single one…almost like the whole food versus the nutrient, so to speak..