Americans are cutting calories, but far from eating healthy

Story highlights

  • The number of calories consumed by Americans has been on the decline in the last 10 years
  • Decreases in the consumption of sugary drinks and trans fats have played a large part the calorie decline
  • Americans still eat too much fast food and foods with added sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables

(CNN)After years of bad news about the obesity epidemic, which affects one-third of Americans, things may finally be looking up. In the past 10 years the rates of obesity appear to be leveling off among both children and adults.

The reason for the possible turn in the obesity tide appears to come down to what experts always suspected it would: eating fewer calories. One recent study found that the average adult went from consuming 2,220 calories a day in 2003 to 2,134 in 2010.
There are already hints of some of the other health payoffs of reducing calories. "In addition to improvements in obesity, there is evidence that we have avoided vast numbers of premature deaths," probably by reducing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions, said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
    Even more encouraging is that Americans appear to be cutting calories in the places they should. They are having fewer sugary drinks, and all but nixed trans fats, even before the recent federal ban.
    Yet, Americans still have a long way to go in how they divvy up calories to get their plates to look more like My Plate, the Department of Agriculture's guideline for healthy eating.
    "There has not been a big enough change in sugar-sweetened beverages and refined carbohydrates and fast foods, and there has not been an increase in the healthy foods," said Barry Popkin, distinguished professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina. "We have slightly cut our calories [but] we still consume over half our calories from the