Pat Yourselves on the Back, America

Nutrient levels of Americans mostly in good ranges though room exists for improvement

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Overall, Americans appear to be doing all right when it comes to nutrient levels. U.S. diets aren't necessarily top-notch in terms of healthiness, but malnutrition isn't high either.

The Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that Americans have satisfactory levels of vitamin A, vitamin D, folate and most of 55 other nutrients in their bodies, though some groups lack a sufficient amount of iron and vitamin D.

"Eat a healthy, balanced diet to ensure you get all necessary nutrients."

The conclusions regarding Americans' nutrient levels comes from analysis of blood and urine samples collected for the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years 1999 to 2006.

Researchers led by Christine Pfeiffer, PhD, from the CDC's National Division of Laboratory Sciences in the National Center for Environmental Health, analyzed the samples for their concentrations of 55 different nutrients, focusing primarily on samples from 2003 to 2006.

The first report was published in 2008 and did not include information on iron levels or on 24 fatty acids that were added for this report. The data collected on polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are good for the heart, and saturated fatty acids, which can increase heart disease risk, will provide starting information for future comparisons of this data.

Where deficiencies in nutrients were seen, they occurred along age, gender or ethnic divisions, such as insufficient levels of vitamin D in 31 percent of African-Americans.

Mexican-Americans' deficiency rate was 12 percent, and 3 percent of non-Hispanic whites were deficient in vitamin D, which promotes bone health and may contribute to other aspects of health and disease reduction.

“Research shows that good nutrition can help lower people’s risk for many chronic diseases. For most nutrients, the low deficiency rates, less than 1 to 10 percent, are encouraging, but higher deficiency rates in certain age and race/ethnic groups are a concern and need additional attention,” Pfeiffer said.

Among the good news was that levels of folate in the blood are sufficient in more than 99 percent of the population, a high rate that's credited to the addition of folic acid to cereal and grain products such as bread starting in 1998.

Folic acid is essential for pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in their babies during the first month of pregnancy, so a public health initiative to fortify breads and grains with the nutrient was instituted to reduce the number of women deficient in folate.

Before fortification of grains with folic acid, about 12 percent of women had insufficient levels of folate in their blood, but this report found that folate levels increased by 50 percent across all race/ethnic groups since fortification started.

One area for improvement involves iodine levels in women between the ages of 20 and 39, who had just barely enough iodine in their blood even though the nutrient is essential for a baby's brain development while a woman is pregnant.

Other health problems that can result from not getting enough iodine are severe thyroid problems, developmental abnormalities and mental retardation in newborns.

Levels of iron deficiency were found in a handful of minority groups, including 11 percent of Mexican-American children aged 1 to 5, 13 percent of Mexican-American women aged 12 to 49, and 16 percent of non-Hispanic blacks.

The report was released April 2 by the CDC.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 3, 2012
Last Updated:
April 3, 2012