The School of Public Health and Health Systems is a division of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences
How healthy are our eating patterns? Based on nationally representative data from 2011-2012, the average Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score among Americans was 57 out of a possible 100 points, indicating that there is a long way to go in shifting the population’s consumption patterns toward dietary recommendations.
Professor Sharon Kirkpatrick from the School of Public Health and Health Systems is co-author of a series of three articles that focus on the latest version of the HEI, a tool in the U.S. that provides an indication of how well overall diet quality aligns with recommendations for healthy eating.
Kirkpatrick says that tools such as the HEI are important as the focus of nutrition research shifts toward overall diet and how it influences health. “Recent work from the World Cancer Research Foundation shows that while there is evidence to link specific foods such as whole grains and processed meat with risk of diseases such as cancer, it appears increasingly less likely that singular dietary factors are the keys to disease prevention,” she said.
“This is consistent with a growing emphasis on understanding the holistic influence of the interacting effects of all the foods and drinks we consume.”
The series of papers, published this week in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focuses on a tool developed to reflect U.S. dietary guidance, but Kirkpatrick says the HEI may be adapted to use with Canadian data, especially since Health Canada will soon be releasing an updated version of Canada’s Food Guide.
“A unique aspect of the HEI in contrast to other diet quality indices is that it enables researchers to examine not only the quality of dietary intakes among populations, but also the quality of foods and beverages offered in environments such as schools or campuses. Examining environmental influences is useful since it can help identify changes that are needed to enable healthy eating among individuals.”
The three papers may be downloaded until October 12: