Healthy Eating Index (HEI)

The Healthy Eating Index is not commonly known to the general public by such a technical term. In layman’s terms, it is best defined as a way of assessing just how well diet and population comply with USDA’s dietary guidelines.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion developed an instrument to assess overall diet quality in American’s general food comsumption – the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). Prior to the inception of the HEI, most studies and measurements were focused on specifics, such as cholesterol or fat content in American’s diets. The HEI shows a measure of dietary quality based on population and sub-population statistical data, titled Dietary Guidelines.

As mandated, dietary guidelines are issued through a 10 component measurement every five years by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, the HEI was updated from 2005 to 2010 to readdress updated Dietary Guidelines, which reflect the need to include more seafood (fish and shellfish) in generally high fat and high sodium American diets. The need to reduce high fat and sodium is at epidemic proportions in terms of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.

HEI measures the intake of 10 dietary components to provide a single score out of a possible 100 points:

  • A diet with a score greater than 80 is considered good.
  • One with a score of 51-80 is considered fair.
  • One with a score of less than 51 is considered poor.
  • Each component contributes equally to the overall score.

This measure of scoring helped “determine the effectiveness of nutrition intervention programs, and to assess the quality of food assistance packages, menus, and the U.S. food supply.

Many food assistance and intervention programs aid those who are in need of governmental assistance when it comes to feeding themselves and their families. The HEI provides clearer statistical data that ensures USDA examines all aspects of how Americans can develop healthier outcomes. With the establishment of the HEI, the USDA has determined that there is a definite correlation to socioeconomics and diet quality and cost. This discovery continues to aid governmental assistance programs and institutions in providing healthier avenues toward helping Americans live healthier lives through better dietary choices. For more information on the HEI, follow the links in this article or contact Michigan State University Extension health and nutrition staff, located near you.

MSU Extension educators and staff are always available to answer any of your questions. The goal is to have healthier families and communities by offering a vast amount of information that contributes to healthy lifestyles. We welcome your comments and questions.

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