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November 6, 2020

How Americans diet, in 4 charts

Daily Briefing

    More Americans were on special diets at some point from 2015 to 2018 when compared with a decade ago, according to new data from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics—a finding that comes amid persistently rising obesity rates in the United States, the Associated Press' Candice Choi reports.

    The best diets for 2020, according to US News

    How Americans' diets have changed over the years

    The data is based on responses to an ongoing national survey that asked participants, "Are you currently on any kind of diet, either to lose weight or for some other health-related reason?"

    CDC researchers found that, from 2015 to 2018, 17.1% of adults ages 20 and older said they were on a special diet on any given day—up from 14.3% from 2007 to 2008. Meanwhile, obesity rates increased from 34% to 42% during the same period, Choi reports.

    According to the researchers, respondents from 2017 to 2018 most commonly reported "weight loss or low calorie" diets, with about 10% of respondents 20 and older saying they were on a such a diet during that period, up from 7.5% from 2007 to 2008. However, low-carbohydrate diets saw the biggest increase in popularity, the researchers found. From 2007 to 2008, 0.9% of respondents said they were on a low-carbohydrate diet, compared with 2.2% from 2017 to 2018.

    Dieting by demographic

    The researchers found several differences in Americans' diets by demographic. For instance, the researchers discovered that, during 2015 to 2018, the more educated a respondent claimed to be, the more likely they were to be on a special diet.

    In addition, the researchers found that, during that same time period, non-Hispanic white respondents were the most likely to report having a special diet, followed by Hispanic respondents.

    Further, the researchers found that women were more likely to report being on a special diet than men, and people older than 40 were more likely to report having a special diet than those ages 20 to 39.


    According to the researchers, around 50% of Americans have a diet-related chronic condition, "such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes." They wrote, "Special diets are one way that many adults prevent, treat, and manage such diseases."

    Dana Hunnes, a professor of public health and nutrition at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the percentage of Americans who reported having a special diet is lower than she anticipated, given how common diet-related diseases are in the United States. However, she said some people may not necessarily think of the way they eat as a diet, even if it maybe would qualify as a special diet (Choi, Associated Press, 11/3; CDC data brief, November 2020).

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