The Food Gap Is Widening

James Hamblin | The Atlantic | September 2, 2014

Wealthy people are eating better than ever, while the poor are eating worse.

Nutritional disparities between America’s rich and poor are growing, despite efforts to provide higher-quality food to people who most need it. So says a large study just released from the Harvard School of Public Health that examined eating habits of 29,124 Americans over the past decade. Diet quality has improved among people of high socioeconomic status but deteriorated among those at the other end of the spectrum. The gap between the two groups doubled between 2000 and 2010. That will be costly for everyone.

The primary conclusion of the study is interesting, though, in that its focus is diet quality among the population as a whole. Without accounting for socioeconomic status, there has been, the study reads, “steady improvement.” People aren’t eating more vegetables, or less red or processed meat, and their salt intake increased—which the researchers call “disconcerting”—but Americans are eating more good things like whole fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats.

Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard and one of the study’s authors, led with the good news when we spoke by phone.  “The good news is that the overall quality of the U.S. diet has been increasing in the past decade,” he said. Hu likened the study to a nutrition report card, saying that “the grade is not that great, kind of in the B- range.” (“Not that great” might be more like a C- or D+ by non-Harvard-professor standards.)...