It’s the first period in human history when the rich are thing, and the poor are fat – and this has a lot to do with something called the food gap.

Image via XVSY.

The food gap is basically what you’d expect from it (much like the wealth gap): there’s a huge difference between what rich people and poor people eat. A new study [cite]10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.3422[/cite] has shown that between 2000 and 2010, the dietary habits of rich people have significantly improved, while for the ones at the other end of the spectrum, the situation is much worse. The gap between the two groups has doubled in just a decade!

The study analyzed 29,124 Americans and found that overall, there has been a slow but steady improvement in dietary habits. Americans are eating less vegetables, more red meat and their salt intake has increased, but they are also eating more fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats.

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Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard and one of the study’s authors told the Atlantic:

“The good news is that the overall quality of the U.S. diet has been increasing in the past decade,” he said. Hu likened the study to a nutrition report card, saying that “the grade is not that great, kind of in the B- range.” (“Not that great” might be more like a C- or D+ by non-Harvard-professor standards.)

The gap betweenn rich and poor people is disturbing, researchers state. The burden of dietary health issues is a price everybody will have to pay.

“With deterioration in diet quality over time,” Hu said, “this may actually even increase disparities in obesity and other diet-related conditions.”

The U.S. government has tried to address this disparity with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which receives almost $80 billion in federal funding annually – the thing is that the money can be spent on any type of calorie, and there is no incentive to buy healthy food. It’s most often cheaper to eat unhealthy food. Hu also highlights the biggest dietary change: the reduction in the consumption of trans fats.

Trans fats are unsaturated fats which are uncommon in nature. High intake of trans fatty acids can lead to many health problems throughout one’s life. Trans fat is abundant in fast food restaurants. It is consumed in greater quantities by people who do not have access to a varied diet or who often consume fast food. A diet high in trans fats can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and a greater risk for heart disease.

Hu attributed the almost 80 percent reduction to policies requiring removal of trans fats from some food supplies and also putting trans fat measurements on food labels.

“These kinds of policies have a very, very big influence on diet quality in populations,” he said.