Most Americans (52 percent) have concluded that figuring out their income taxes is easier than knowing what they should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey.
The Survey found that people think a great deal about the healthfulness of their diets and want to make improvements. Yet, 76 percent agree that ever-changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe. And when it comes to making decisions about food, consumers today rely most often on their own research rather than third-party experts. Six out of 10 Americans have given a lot of thought to the foods and beverages they consume (58 percent) and the amount of physical activity they get (61 percent). Yet, only 20 percent say their diet is very healthful and 23 percent describe their diet as extremely or very unhealthful; less than 20 percent meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines.
“This year’s Survey was designed to reveal consumer behavior, not just thoughts and desires. Clearly, there is a disconnect for many Americans,” said Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, Senior Vice President, Nutrition and Food Safety, IFIC Foundation. “Some questions also reveal clear differences based on gender and age. For example, men feel it is harder to eat a healthful diet than to find time to exercise, while women feel just the opposite. The percentage of older respondents who say their diet is very or extremely healthful is about twice the rate of younger people. These are important distinctions for health professionals and others who are trying to help individuals and families improve their diet and health.”
The IFIC Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey found that 90 percent of Americans have given at least a little thought to the ingredients in their food and beverages. Consumers say they are trying to eat more whole grains, fiber and protein, while cutting calories, sugar, solid fats and salt. However, taste (87 percent) remains the most significant determinant of food and beverage choices, followed by price, which dropped significantly as a factor compared to 2011, and healthfulness. In terms of trying to lead healthier lives, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that online and mobile tools are helpful.
The Survey was fielded by Mathew Greenwald & Associates of Washington, D.C. between April 3 and 13, 2012 and involved 1,057 Americans ages 18 to 80. Results were weighted to match the U.S. Census based on age, education, gender, race/ethnicity, and region to be nationally representative.
Additional Findings from the IFIC Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey
- Overall, 55 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight. However, 23 percent of obese consumers and 44 percent of overweight consumers say they are not trying to lose weight.
- Fewer than one in 10 Americans correctly estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight and only three in 10 believe that all sources of calories play an equal role in weight gain. Calories from sugar, carbohydrates and fats are believed more likely to cause weight gain.
- During the past year, 66 percent of Americans have given some thought to the sustainability of their foods and beverages, with about 40 percent regularly purchasing locally sourced or recyclable food and beverage products.
- Only 17 percent of Americans say they have stopped buying a specific brand or type of food due to safety concerns and more than half of all consumers (57 percent) believe that the chances are extremely low that they will contract a serious foodborne illness. About half (48 percent) believe foods produced in foreign countries are less safe than foods grown in the U.S.
- The expiration date surpassed the food package Nutrition Facts panel in terms of the information consumers looked for in making food or beverage purchases, although the importance of statements about nutrition and health benefits both rose significantly.
- Six in 10 Americans believe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates how food additives may be used but only 36 percent realized the FDA approves or sets daily intake limits for food additives. About half (46 percent) of Americans believe that food colors must be reviewed and approved by the U.S. government before being added to foods.
- Eighty-seven percent of parents believe that it is good for their health to sit down and eat meals with their family and 69 percent of parents worry about the healthfulness of their children’s diets more than their own.
- The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate graphic was readily recognized by consumers and received high marks for communicating about healthful eating.