Poor Nutrition

Good nutrition is essential to keeping current and future generations healthy across the lifespan. A healthy diet helps children grow and develop properly and reduces their risk of chronic diseases. Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage these conditions and avoid complications.

However, when healthy options are not available, people may settle for foods that are higher in calories and lower in nutritional value. People in low-income communities and some racial and ethnic groups often lack access to convenient places that offer affordable, healthier foods.

Most people in the United States don’t eat a healthy diet and consume too much sodium, saturated fat, and sugar, increasing their risk of chronic diseases. For example, fewer than 1 in 10 adolescents and adults eat enough fruits or vegetables. In addition, 6 in 10 young people aged 2 to 19 years and 5 in 10 adults consume at least one sugary drink on any given day.

CDC supports breastfeeding and works to improve access to healthier food and drink choices in settings such as early care and education facilities, schools, worksites, and communities.

Fast Stats

In the United States:

mother breastfeeding infant

3 IN 4
INFANTS

are not exclusively breastfed for 6 months.

pizza, fries and canned food

9 IN 10
AMERICANS

consume too
much sodium.

pregnant woman

1 in 6
PREGNANT WOMEN

have iron levels that are too low.

money

NEARLY $173
BILLION

a year is spent on
health care for obesity.

The Harmful Effects of Poor Nutrition

Overweight and Obesity

Eating a healthy diet, along with getting enough physical activity and sleep, can help children grow up healthy and prevent overweight and obesity. In the United States, 20% of young people aged 2 to 19 years and 42% of adults have obesity, which can put them at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Nutritional food arranged into a heart

Two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke. Current guidelines recommend getting less than 2,300 mg a day, but Americans consume more than 3,400 mg a day on average.

Over 70% of the sodium that Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber and increasing access to low-sodium foods, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Type 2 Diabetes

People who are overweight or have obesity are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those at a healthy weight because, over time, their bodies become less able to use the insulin they make. Of US adults, 88 million—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes, and more than 8 in 10 of them don’t know they have it.

Although incidence has decreased in recent years, the number of adults with diagnosed diabetes has nearly doubled in the last 2 decades as the US population has increased, aged, and become more overweight.

Cancer

An unhealthy diet can increase the risk of some cancers. Consuming unhealthy food and beverages, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed food, can lead to weight gain, obesity and other chronic conditions that put people at higher risk of at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial (uterine) cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer. The risk of colorectal cancer is also associated with eating red and processed meat.

CDC’s Work to Promote Good Nutrition

Measure Breastfeeding Practices and Eating Patterns

CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity uses national and state surveys to track breastfeeding rates and eating patterns across the country, including fruit, vegetable, and added sugar consumption. The division also reports data on nutrition policies and practices for each state. Data from these surveys are used to understand trends in nutrition and differences between population groups.

CDC partners use this information to help support breastfeeding and encourage healthy eating where people live, learn, work, and play, especially for populations at highest risk of chronic disease.

Support Breastfeeding in the Hospital and Community

Mother breastfeeding her baby

Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants. It can reduce the risk of some short-term health conditions for infants and long-term health conditions for infants and mothers. Maternity care practices in the first hours and days after birth can influence whether and how long infants are breastfed.

CDC funds programs that help hospitals use maternity care practices that support breastfeeding. These programs have helped increase the percentage of infants born in hospitals that implement recommended practices 1. CDC also works with partners to support programs designed to improve continuity of care and community support for breastfeeding mothers.

Offer Healthier Food Options in Early Care and Education Facilities and Schools

girl with a health lunch at school

Nearly 56 million US children spend time in early care and education (ECE) facilities or public schools. These settings can directly influence what children eat and drink and how active they are—and build a foundation for healthy habits.

CDC is helping our nation’s children grow up healthy and strong by:

  • Creating resources to help partners improve obesity prevention programs and use nutrition standards.
  • Investing in training and learning networks that help child care providers and state and local child care leaders meet standards and use and share best practices.
  • Providing technical assistance, such as training school staff how to buy, prepare, and serve fruits and vegetables or teach children how to grow and prepare fruits and vegetables.

The CDC Healthy Schools program works with states, school systems, communities, and national partners to promote good nutrition. These efforts include publishing guidelines and tips on how schools and parents can model healthy behaviors and offer healthier school meals, smart snacks, and water access.

CDC also works with national groups to increase the number of salad bars in schools. As of 2021, the Salad Bars to School program has delivered almost 6,000 salad bars to schools across the nation, giving over 2.9 million children and school staff better access to fruits and vegetables.

Offer Healthier Food Options in the Workplace

Millions of US adults buy foods and drinks while at work. CDC develops and promotes food service guidelines that encourage employers and vendors to increase healthy food options for employees. CDC-funded programs are working to make healthy foods and drinks (including water) more available in cafeterias, snack shops, and vending machines. CDC also partners with states to help employers comply with the federal lactation accommodation law and provide breastfeeding mothers with places to pump and store breast milk, flexible work hours, and maternity leave benefits.

Improve Access to Healthy Foods in States and Communities

Mom and daughter grocery shopping

People living in low-income urban neighborhoods, rural areas, and tribal communities often have little access to affordable, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. CDC’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, High Obesity Program, and Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program fund states and communities to improve food systems in these areas through food hubs, local stores [PDF – 2.5MB], farmers’ markets, and bodegas.

These programs, which also involve food vendors and distributors, help increase the variety and number of healthier foods and drinks available and help promote and market these items to customers.

Support Lifestyle Change Programs to Reduce Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Risk

More than 14 million with obesity, and obesity is more common in households with lower incomes. CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity supports three projects related to pediatric weight management:

CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) is a partnership of public and private organizations working to build a nationwide delivery system for a lifestyle change program proven to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults with prediabetes. Participants in the National DPP lifestyle change program learn to make healthy food choices, be more physically active, and find ways to cope with stress. These changes can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 58% (71% for those over 60).

Page last reviewed: June 6, 2022