Background: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the food guide pyramid aim to reduce the risk of major chronic disease in the United States, but data supporting their overall effectiveness are sparse. The healthy eating index (HEI) measures the concordance of dietary patterns with these guidelines.
Objective: We tested whether a high HEI score (range: 0-100; 100 is best) calculated from a validated food-frequency questionnaire (HEI-f) could predict lower risk of major chronic disease in men.
Design: A cohort of US male health professionals without major disease completed detailed questionnaires on food intake and other risk factors for heart disease and cancer in 1986 and repeatedly during the 8-y follow-up. Major chronic disease outcome was defined as incident major cardiovascular disease (stroke or myocardial infarction, n = 1092), cancer (n = 1661), or other non-trauma-related deaths (n = 366).
Results: The HEI-f was weakly inversely associated with risk of major chronic disease [comparing highest with lowest quintile of the HEI-f, relative risk (RR) = 0.89; 95% CI: 0.79, 1.00; P: < 0.001 for trend]. The HEI-f was associated with moderately lower risk of cardiovascular disease (RR = 0.72; 95% CI: 0.60, 0.88; P: < 0.001) but was not associated with lower cancer risk.
Conclusions: The HEI-f was only weakly associated with risk of major chronic disease, suggesting that improvements to the HEI may be warranted. Further research on the HEI could have implications for refinements to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the food guide pyramid.