According to a 2022 survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 52% of US participants answered that they were following a diet in the last year. In previous surveys, only 39% answered the same.

Diets of all types have always been popular among the health-conscious, fitness buffs, and those who’d like to lose or gain some pounds. So, what are the statistics surrounding dieting in the US?

This article looks at all the interesting dieting statistics in America and what we can gain from knowing them.

General Dieting Statistics in America

First, we’re looking at general dieting statistics. These numbers include the most preferred types of diets, why certain people choose to do diets, and the demographics of dieting in the US.

COVID-19 and Diets

The sharp rise in people who follow diets could be due to what most call “pandemic pounds.” This refers to the weight gain that followed during the pandemic. The pandemic has brought about quite a bit of stress, and while home all day during lockdowns, we just weren’t burning as many calories by walking around.

But here is what the studies say about it:

  • According to the American Psychological Association’s research, 61% of adults in the US reported undesired weight gain during the lockdown.
  • In 2021, another study by Alban et al. suggested that these statistics might not actually hold much weight. The percentages of people who gained and lost pounds are almost the same at 39% and 35%, respectively.

The researchers noted that the weight gain and loss were all within normal fluctuations. So, it looks like the pounds gained during lockdown weren’t as widespread as we thought.

Regardless of whether pandemic pounds are true, many people within different demographics are still actively choosing to follow diets and eating patterns. In the next section, let’s take a closer look at these diets and patterns.

Diet Preferences

There are tons of special diets existing today. If you’ve ever wondered which is the most common choice, here are some of the numbers according to Statista’s 2016 survey.

  • Among over 900 respondents, the special diet they tried the most was vegetarian.
  • In 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a data brief about special diets among American adults. One of the key findings is that the most common type of special diet that the respondents followed was a low-calorie type of diet.

Low-Calorie Diets

This type of diet is widely known to be effective for weight loss. In addition, the same data brief from NCHS showed that the number of adults following low-calorie diets increased throughout the years.

On the other hand, the percentage of people that followed low-cholesterol diets decreased.

  • Based on another study that analyzed data sets from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, many men and women attempting weight loss opted for low-calorie or low-fat diets.
  • Between 1996 and 2003, low-fat diets became less preferred. People attempting weight loss chose low-calorie or low-energy diets, so much so that the numbers doubled.

Vegetarian Diets

Quite similarly, vegetarians in the US also consume fewer calories in their diets. Additionally, they consume less fat as well and more fiber because of their plant-based diet.

  • Based on a 2018 poll from Gallup, only around 5% of adults in America are vegetarians.
  • Their statistics also confirm the same conclusion from Statista’s survey in 2016: this type of diet is more popular among younger individuals. According to Gallup’s poll, only 2% of adults over the age of 55 are vegetarians.

Out of all the adults who identified as vegetarians, the percentage of males and females is similar. In addition, vegetarianism appeared more prevalent in non-white American respondents.

Aside from low-calorie and vegetarian diets, other special diets that were popular among respondents across surveys were diabetic diets and low-carbohydrate diets.

Demographics of Dieting in the US

Now that we know about the most popular diet preferences of teenagers and adults in the US, what about other demographics? Are females more inclined to follow special diets?

Are these diets more popular among the young or the old? Do people base their diets on their current weight status?

More importantly, how does the financial capability of an individual affect their choices concerning diet choices?

According to Gender

According to the same NCHS data brief mentioned earlier, more women (19%) were following special diets than men (15.1%).

Another article from the Nutrition Journal reported:

  • 16% of female respondents prioritize following a healthy lifestyle compared to the 9% of male respondents who said the same.
  • Women were more often turned to media (such as magazines or online) for new information about existing special diets than men.
  • 56% of women have tried to lose weight, compared to only around 41.7% of men. This is according to a 2018 data brief by the NCHS about the attempts to lose weight of adults in the US.

According to Age

Data from the NCHS surveys show the following about the ages of those who are on special diets:

  • Between 2015 and 2018, 19.2% of adults between the ages of 40 to 59 followed special diets. This percentage is the highest compared to any other age group.
  • Adults aged 60 and over reported a close percentage of 19.1%. This could be because adults above 60 are more likely to undergo special diets due to diet-related illnesses.

These age patterns are the same and true for both female and male adults across the different age groups.

According to Current Weight Status

The same NCHS data brief by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides some insight into dieting prevalence according to weight status.

  • As the weight status increased, the prevalence of following special diets also increased. At 23.1%, people with obesity are more likely to undergo diets.
  • The percentage is 17.1% for people who are overweight, while it was the lowest at 8.3% for people who are either underweight or have normal weight statuses.

According to Socioeconomic Status

an overweight woman

A study by Pechey and Monsivais looked into the relationship between different socioeconomic statuses and their food choices. The research showed that those within higher social classes tend to spend more on food.

This greater expenditure was also associated with healthier food options. Thus, these findings suggest that those who spend less on food choose the less healthy options because of the cost.

Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked social class to diet quality. Those individuals and families of lower social classes tended to prefer calorie-rich or high-energy diets.

These diets are essentially unhealthy and don’t provide enough nutrients to reduce the risk of diet-related diseases.

In relation to this, those lower social classes have higher rates of these diet-related diseases such as obesity. This condition is linked to low-income households and poverty in general.

These studies show us that inequalities in income significantly affect the ability of people to choose diets that are beneficial for them health-wise. Unfortunately, food options that cost less are almost always unhealthy.

Statistics on Weight Loss and Weight Gain

Earlier, we briefly discussed weight loss and weight gain statistics during the pandemic. In this section, we’re taking a deeper dive into the numbers surrounding these two concepts.

Weight Loss

Most of the time, people assume that special diets are geared especially toward weight loss. The truth is, they’re usually right.

  • The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) reported the trend that over 30% of American adults are over the recommended weight.
  • The data brief also reported that when asked what method the respondents used for losing weight, 62.9% answered exercising and consuming less food. This was closely followed by 50.4% of responses relating to eating more nutritious food like fruits and vegetables.

Weight Gain

Although it’s less common, people also undergo special diets to gain weight. Contrary to the methods above used for losing weight, those that are used to gain weight heavily involve eating frequency.

  • A study by Padavinangadi et al. researched the impact of eating and exercise frequency on weight gain.
  • The study concluded that an increase in eating frequency paired with adequate physical exercise also increased the prevalence of normal BMI among the study participants.

However, as with methods used for weight loss, the diets for weight gain have to come with lifestyle changes too. This helps prevent excessive and unhealthy weight gain leading to obesity.

Statistics on Diet-Related Illnesses

Unfortunately, a long list of illnesses can be traced back to diet choices. Most of the time, these conditions are treated with special diets, the proper medication, and required activity levels.

Below are the statistics on some of the most common diet-related illnesses among people in America.

Statistics on Obesity

In a fact sheet released in 2020, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that the prevalence of obesity in 2017–2018 was 42.4% among adults in the US.

Add that to the 30% of the population who are over the recommended weight, and you get that over 2/3 of our adult population is overweight and/or obese. Have a look at the numbers in this table:

Point of ComparisonMenWomenBoth Genders  
Over the Recommended Weight34.127.530.7
Obese (including Severely Obese)43.041.942.4
Severely Obese6.911.59.2

NHANES Data (2017–2018)

Obesity is most prevalent in adults between the ages of 40 to 59, with 44.8% reported as obese.

Adults aged 60 and over come in at a percentage of 42.8%.

Last on the list but not exactly far behind are adults aged 20 to 39, with 40% reported obese.

In addition, the survey also reported that severe obesity is more prevalent in adult women at 11.5% compared to the 6.9% prevalence in adult men.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most basic—and most common—cause of obesity across the population is the imbalance between the calories we intake and the calories we burn.

Statistics on Diabetes

  • As per CDC’s database on diabetes, 1 in 10 Americans have this disorder. That means there are over 37 million people with diabetes in the US alone—that’s 11.3% of the total population.
  • According to the CDC’s report on the prevalence of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes, there’s a higher percentage of people aged 65 and up diagnosed with diabetes (24.4%).
  • Over 95%  of diabetic patients have type 2 diabetes.
  • In 2019, 1.4 million cases of diabetes were diagnosed. Interestingly, the incidence rates are highest for people aged 45 to 64.

Type 2 is commonly the type of diabetes associated with diets and food intake. This is mainly because people who are overweight are more likely to have this kind of disorder.

A healthy diet is one of the essential factors in dealing with this disorder.

Statistics on High Cholesterol

High cholesterol isn’t always attributed to an unhealthy diet; sometimes, it’s an inherited condition. However, its most common cause continues to be physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits, and obesity, among others.

  • According to CDC’s High Cholesterol Facts, 28 million adults in America have blood cholesterol levels that are greater than 240 mg/dL.
  • Almost 7% of younger individuals from ages 6 to 19 have cholesterol values that are considered high.

Lowering cholesterol involves following diets with less saturated fat content. This means cutting down on most processed meat and fried food.

Statistics on Eating Disorders

Medical professionals can’t specifically pinpoint the exact cause of eating disorders, but genetics and biology make up 28-74% of the risk for these disorders.

Statistics on Scurvy

Vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, is much less common than the other diet-related illnesses we previously looked at. However, it still exists even in developed countries.

  • A 2009 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey studied the prevalence of scurvy in the US between 2003 and 2004. According to the survey, around 10% of adult men and women eat up enough vitamin C to meet the recommended amount.
  • An article from StatNews reports that 10-17% of people from low-income households suffer from scurvy.

The existence of scurvy even in developed countries—such as the US—paints a picture of the current status of overall health and food accessibility in these countries.

How Do Diets Affect Disease Risk?

How do diets affect disease risk, exactly? The link between these two concepts is quite strong in that they significantly influence each other.

In 2012, a study led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian reported that bad eating habits and practices account for almost half of the total deaths from cardiometabolic diseases. These diseases include diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Out of all recorded adult deaths, 45% stem from cardiometabolic diseases that were strongly associated with poor dietary practices.

These poor dietary practices included eating too much food with sodium or salt, trans fats, and sugar—meal components that are highly considered unhealthy.

In fact, increased consumption of these unhealthy food components is directly correlated to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol leading to heart attacks and strokes, and obesity.

In contrast, consuming less of these unhealthy food components and more healthy food options like fresh produce, fish, and lean meats significantly lowers the risk for cardiometabolic diseases.

Success and Failure Rates of Dieting

The fact of the matter is that diets can either be successful or not.

You’ll often hear this statistic when talking about the success of dieters: over 95% of diets fail. Would you believe that this statistic is from a study done in 1959?

One of the main reasons why this number has been used until now is that more recent studies back this statistic. Supportive data from different researchers, such as the one from the National Library of Medicine in 1992, suggest that most dieters relapse and simply regain the weight they lost after a few years.

Another study from Australian National Medical Health and Research Council found that most weight loss interventions last at most 12 months. After two to five years, most weight loss is inevitably regained.

Are All Diets Meant to Fail?

overweight woman

So, does this mean you’re more than likely to fail at dieting? Well, that’s actually up to you and how much you follow your diet.

The thing is, most conventional diets are restrictive in what you can and can’t eat. This makes it harder to stick to a diet and achieve consistency throughout.

Fortunately, all of the studies surrounding the success and failure rates of diets have also given insight into better behaviors that lead to a healthier body.

It’s important to note that overall health depends on a number of factors, not just diets. Failure to maintain the weight loss initially brought about by a certain special diet doesn’t automatically mean it’s a decline in health status too.

Remember, diets must be in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle practices such as exercising and physical activities. You can’t simply choose a special diet and skip everything else it has to come with to get the results these diets promise.

Diets go beyond just body size manipulation.

Use the statistics to your advantage: why did most of the respondents fail, and what can you do differently? Ultimately, the choice of whether a diet fails or succeeds is completely up to you.

Final Thoughts

It’s helpful to know about dieting statistics in America for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is that these statistics help you make an informed decision about following certain special diets.

You can realistically base your choices on these numbers because they’re based on data collected from actual people in different populations. Plus, these statistics give the government, food businesses, and several organizations an overview of dieting in general.

This overview aids in creating programs and taking active steps to provide healthier options for the general population. In addition, it helps track certain populations’ progress regarding diets and losing or gaining weight.

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