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Americans Eating Fewer Calories Than a Decade Ago

According to a federal study, children are eating fewer calories and adults are chowing down on less fast food than in years past. What does this mean for the state of our country's health now and in the future?
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Greatist News examines and explains the trends and studies making headlines in fitness, health, and happiness. Check out all the news here.

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A recent federal study found that American children are eating fewer calories than they did a decade earlier. It's welcome news, especially considering that other studies have proposed today's kids are going to die five years younger due to inactivity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted the study, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to gauge how (and if) America is dealing with its growing obesity epidemic. The survey includes data on how children and adults alike eat in the 21st century. Read on to find out how our eating habits are changing for the better.

What's the Deal

The survey compared data from 1999 with more recent responses from 2010. Participants were interviewed by phone and in mobile exam centers to report on their eating routines. The most promising stats involved children, finding that caloric intake for most age groups declined over the decade. Boys' caloric intake decreased by about 7 percent (to 2,100 calories per day), and girls' caloric intake shrunk by about 4 percent (to 1,755 calories per day), the New York Times reported.

Researchers suggested that a decrease in carbohydrate consumption (including sugars) played a big role in the drop. Calories from fat remained about the same, while calories from protein actually increased. Carbs have been a prime suspect for researchers investigating childhood obesity due to the added sugars in popular foods like sodas, cereals, and snacks like chips or flavored milk.

Interestingly, a second study focusing on adults found that calorie counts were also dropping when it came to junk food. Specifically, American adults were shown to consume fewer calories from fast food joints — down from 12.8 percent in 2006 to 11.3 percent in 2010. Unfortunately, the study also showed that total calories from fast food increased as weight status increased, meaning that obese adults continued to eat more fast food than their slimmer peers.

Why It Matters

The obesity epidemic in the United States is hardly breaking news. We've written about its causes and consequences, from the increased need for physical education to the impact of weight-based bullying. But despite the whopping one third of American adults officially classified as obese, we're clearly still unsure how to fix it (or even if it needs to be fixed in the first place).

The small shifts in eating trends discussed in the studies above (fewer consumed calories for children and less fast food for adults) are both steps in the right direction, albeit tiny ones. Researchers for the surveys told the Times that the magnitude of these declines was too small to create major change.

In some ways, the results aren't too surprising. Recent years have shown an increased focus on healthy, sustainable eating. Fast food chains themselves have started creating healthier (read: actually healthier) menu options, which, in turn, have helped boost sales. Even brands like Coca-Cola have put health at the top of their to-do lists, creating workouts,  calorie calculators, and advertisements that promote striving for a healthy lifestyle.

People have also taken renewed interest in their personal fitness thanks to the rise of online communities like Reddit's r/fitness and gadgets like Nike's FuelBand or the FitBit. It's clear the needle is moving in the right direction, and the CDC's survey is proof that America is inching, albeit slowly, toward greater health.

Are you surprised we're eating less calories now than in 1999? Share your thoughts in the comments below or find the author on Twitter at @zsniderman.

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