In a new study from the American Society for Nutrition, researchers have taken a look at dietary trends among Americans during the Great Recession. The findings confirm the idea that dietary quality is sacrificed when the economy is bad.
The experts found that overall, adults ate more refined grains and solid fats and children consumed more added sugar during the recession. The impacts on dietary quality were the greatest in food-insecure households, where protein and dark green vegetables were largely replaced by sugary foods.
Study lead author Dr. Jacqueline Vernarelli is an associate professor of Public Health at Sacred Heart University,
“Overall, we found that the Great Recession had a negative impact on dietary behaviors in both adults and children,” said Dr. Vernarelli. “This adds to a robust body of evidence that economic downturn impacts household income, employment status and subsequent household food security levels.”
According to the researchers, the findings are likely relevant to today’s economic environment.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented increases in food insecurity, and a dramatic increased need for emergency food resources and other types of food assistance,” said Dr. Vernarelli. “By identifying key intake patterns during the previous recession, we can identify areas that may need intervention now and during the (pandemic) recovery years.”
The study was focused on data from a nationally representative sample of over 60,000 U.S. adults and children. The team analyzed dietary habits and household food security before, during, and after the Great Recession. Households that are food insecure have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
The findings suggest that nutritional quality deteriorates as families substitute cheaper foods in place of healthier options.
The researchers explained that while the overall quantity of food may not be lower in many food-insecure households, the quality, desirability and variety of the diet is often reduced.
During the recession, children in households with low food security were found to consume about 200 more calories per day on average. They ate higher levels of solid fat and added sugars compared to the time period before and after the recession.
“Using historical data to understand and anticipate potential nutrient needs and areas of concern may better help public health nutritionists serve communities faced with food insecurity, as well as help inform decisions related to food assistance policy,” said Dr. Vernarelli.
Emma Turchick, a graduate student in Vernarelli’s lab, will present the research at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE.