Food and Health Survey gauges consumer attitudes to food and nutrition

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 23rd September 2008

Survey answers - food questionnaire

The annual Food and Health Survey, commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), has identified current American consumer attitudes toward food, health and nutrition.

Health/Diet

Perception of health being “excellent” or “very good” has risen amongst consumers to 39 per cent from 33 per cent in 2006, while satisfaction with health has remained constant at around 59 per cent.

Despite the increase in health satisfaction, consumers are more concerned about their weight, suggesting that they may have shifted toward “better for you” products to improve their perception of their health yet struggled to either increase exercise or reduce the number of calories in their diet. The report found weight a strong factor impacting on a decision for dietary change, as 69 per cent of those indicating they altered their diet reported their main reason was “to lose weight”.

Two-thirds highlighted that they had already made changes to improve the “healthfulness” of their diet, with a decrease in portion sizes (60%) and a reduction in calories consumed (57%) among the methods to improve their diet. Despite good intentions, consumers still appear to be lacking in the vital information they need to make a difference to their health, providing an opportunity for retailers/manufacturers to educate consumers. Only 15 per cent were aware of the amount of calories they should be consuming each day, just 31 per cent realise that calories from any source contribute equally to weight gain and 44 per cent admit they don’t correctly balance calories consumed and expended.

Meal Occasions

Breakfast was again named the most important meal of the day, closely followed by dinner and then lunch. Despite an awareness of the benefits of a nutritious breakfast, many Americans failed to eat breakfast seven mornings a week (just 46% said they did). Those who failed to do so cited a number of “barriers”, most notably, “not hungry right after I wake up” (59%) and “not enough time” (54%).

Snacks also remain an important part of the daily routine, with 94 per cent of Americans consuming at least one snack on a daily basis.

Health and Wellness

“Taste” and “price” remained the two primary drivers of purchase decisions, but “healthfulness” continues to be an important factor (62% cite this as a reason for purchase – up from 58% in ’06 but down from 65% in ’07). The slight drop perhaps indicates that the financial uncertainty has had an impact on the health and wellness boom, but expect the “healthfulness” factor to rise in importance in coming years.

In addition to the previously mentioned focus on portion sizes and calorie control, consumers are looking to enhance the quality of their diet by either increasing (37%) or decreasing (21%) their consumption of a specific type of food or beverage. The belief in functional foods also appears to be on the up, as 60 per cent now concur that certain foods and beverages can offer multiple benefits (e.g. improve digestion, heart health). Eighty per cent of all consumers say they are now currently consuming or would be interested in consuming functional foods.

Fats

Seventy per cent are worried about their level of fat intake and 68 per cent are particularly concerned about the type of fat they consume. Awareness of trans fats rose again to 91 per cent, as the campaign to cut back on these fats gathered momentum in the US. A number of America’s leading fast-food chains pledged to eliminate trans fats from their meals in the wake of pressure from health and consumer groups (this did not extend to Australia). Californian restaurants are now to be banned from selling trans fats (except in packaged food).

Such awareness of trans fats and health issues associated might not be as high in Australia, as the uproar has not been as strong. In May this year, the NSW Greens did introduce the Food Amendment (Trans Fatty Acids Eradication) Bill 2008, which called for a 12 month transition to a statewide ban – it has yet to be passed.

Fifty-nine per cent of Americans now use the “Nutrition Facts Panel” to ascertain the trans fat levels, with 79 per cent of the belief that trans fats are unhealthy (up from 64% in ’06). Awareness of “good” fats such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats has risen, but is still well below that of the less healthy fats.

Sugars/Carbs/Caffeine

Seven out of every ten are concerned about their sugar intake and 68% will check the label to discover the sugar content of a product. Fears about carbohydrate consumption have stabilised, with about half careful about the amount they consume.

Caffeine is consumed in moderation, according to 64 per cent of respondents. Although, 22 per cent admit they consume more than the average person and 14 per cent have managed to eliminate all caffeine from their diet.

Food Additives

The study for the first time gauged the perception of potential benefits of additives, but did not discover whether consumers where concerned about the health impact of food/beverage additives. Sixty-eight per cent believe that additives can extend the freshness of certain food/act as a preservative, 65 per cent consider adding colour to food as a food additive benefit, 61 per cent believe it can help maintain or improve food flavour and 36 per cent consider additives capable and effective at reducing the presence of harmful bacteria.