Recently released statistics by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show some interesting trends, but it may be a case of "good news - bad news" information. The numbers show that, as of the beginning of April 2014, fewer Americans were taking advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in this country than in 2013. The statistics do not attempt to categorize the reasons for the decrease, but the raw numbers show that nearly 700,000 fewer individuals and 209,000 fewer households were using food stamps.
Whether that points to a decrease in eligibility or a decrease in need, however, is uncertain.
Some of the other dietary news, as reported by Eating Well Magazine in the May-June 2014 issue, seems to provide a bit more reason to hope that continuing education efforts and promotion of nutritional awareness are having a beneficial effect.
Among the findings are: A decrease in total calories. The numbers indicate a decrease in total consumption of 78 calories a day, and a decrease of 127 calories consumed away from home. First Lady Michelle Obama not too long ago unveiled a new effort called "Let's Cook" as a way to promote home cooking with children. It was designed to complement her previous "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.
Additional findings reported a decline of $36 billion in food spending, which was attributed mainly to the increase in eating meals at home. Again, it is not known if the spending cuts are the result of economic necessity or lifestyle choice.
Final numbers have to do with the nutrition information provided to consumers on packaging. Current number show that 42% of Americans now "read the labels" when purchasing prepared foods, an increase from the 34% who said they checked label information in 2007.
The last category noted was the increase in fiber consumed. Fiber is considered a vital component of a healthy diet, and Americans reported eating approximately 7.5% more fiber, or the equivalent of 4 baby carrots daily.
In many ways, these numbers are not surprising, based on the increasing discussion of nutrition and diet in this country. Government programming, school efforts to provide nutritious lunches and educate about food production, an increasing awareness of the part that diet and exercise play in promoting health and an improving economy all can be cited as contributing, at least in part, to the better numbers.
In addition, the increasing popularity of locally-grown food, farmers markets and concern with additives and preservatives are all seen as driving public interest in health and nutrition.