Most people in today’s general population would answer yes if you asked them whether our population’s eating habits are on average, unhealthy. But would we be so quick to judge our own eating habits? According to a study published this year, it seems not. Sixty participants were sat down in front of a 72-food buffet and asked to plate one meal for themselves and one for their peer. Now, you would think that these two plates of food would be nearly identical, correct? Well according to the study, people actually chose foods that were higher in calories for their peers (1). The participant’s actions in this study indicate that people tend to assume that their peers would choose foods that are more unhealthy and higher in calories than they do, feeding the perception of “I eat healthier than you”. This perception of one’s self can be concerning, given that it goes against western population data indicating that most people eat a diet that is way too energy-dense, high in fat and low in whole fruits and vegetables. It also means that if someone else is dishing up your food, they may be feeding you a more unhealthy diet than you might choose for yourself. (Note, that the participants serving the food did not necessarily make healthy choices they just made more unhealthy choices for their peers, assuming their peers choices would have been worse than theirs.)
In a similar vein, a study conducted right here in Australia by the Cancer Council and Heart Foundation found that people think it is now ‘normal’ to skip breakfast, overeat and snack on treats frequently. Half of the study population believed that their diet was ‘healthy’ when in fact only 7% were eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day (2).
There is clearly a major disconnect between what one perceives to be a healthy diet and what is actually a healthy diet. Due to the strong connection between an unhealthy diet and illness/disease, it is concerning that our views and perceptions are not more accurate. It means that instead of actively seeking out help or trying to modify their behaviour, people are more likely to do nothing because they believe their diet is ‘healthy’, or at least “healthier than others” when in reality, it may not be.
How do you perceive your diet? Do you view it as unhealthy or healthy, and why do you see it that way?
 Sproesser, G., Kohlbrenner, V., Schupp, H., & Renner, B. (2015). I eat healthier than you: differences in healthy and unhealthy food choices for oneself and for others. Nutrients, 7: 4638-4660.
 Cancer Council Australia. (2015). The Shape of Victoria Study. Retrieved from www.cancervic.org.au