IFIC 2010 Food & Health Survey Part I: Overall Health and Diet

July 23, 2010

2010 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health

Although the degree of satisfaction with overall health status is relatively high, there are disconnects in consumers’ awareness of the relationship between diet, physical activity and calories, according to the recent 2010 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. The study, now in its fifth year, found that most Americans want to improve their health, but that a number of them may be uncertain on the steps they should be taking toward achieving that goal.

Findings indicate that Americans are more focused on how dietary changes affect weight loss than on a number of other motivating factors. In fact, the vast majority of Americans (77%) trying to lose or maintain their weight are doing so by changing the amount of food they eat (69%), changing the type of foods they eat (63%) and engaging in exercise (60%). Sixty-four percent of Americans report making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet, and the primary driver for making these changes is to “lose weight” (65%).

However, few Americans (12%) can accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day. Only 19% say they are keeping track of calories and most (58%) don’t make an effort to balance calories consumed versus calories burned. Disconnects exist in exercise too. Seventy-seven percent of exercising Americans are not meeting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines; more than half of those who are “active” (56%) engage in exercise that does not include any strength training sessions. 

“In our survey we ask why people are making dietary changes, and this was the first year that losing weight was cited as the number one motivator for making improvements to their diets. In previous iterations of the survey the number one response was to improve overall well-being. This year the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has brought significant attention to the issue of childhood obesity, and obesity in general. Additionally, health professionals have been urging Americans to manage their weight for more than a decade, so perhaps all of these things are coming to a tipping point for many Americans,” says Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, Associate Director of Health & Wellness for IFIC.

Unfortunately, even with the best motivation, resources, and intentions, there are a lot of barriers that can get in the way of a person's desire to lose weight. According to the survey, Americans cite lack of will power (44%), not having enough time (40%), and not seeing results quickly enough (38%) as some top barriers that keep them from obtaining their weight loss goals. 

“I think this research shows promise that Americans are interested in learning how they can manage their weight. However, we need to be ready to educate them about the role that calories play in managing weight and couple this information with positive messages that address the very things that can keep them from obtaining their weight loss goals,” says Rahavi.

Meanwhile, more than half of Americans (53%) are concerned with their sodium consumption, and six in 10 are purchasing lower sodium foods. Sodium was new to this year’s survey, as was protein. Americans are twice as likely to say protein is found in animal (56%) versus plant sources (28%), and 68% of Americans believe protein helps build muscle. 

Fats are causing some confusion as well. While 64% of consumers are trying to consume less trans fats and saturated fats, less than half (43%) are consuming more Omega-3 fatty acids and only 26% are consuming more Omega-6 fatty acids. 

“Our data clearly show that consumers are confused about a lot of nutrition issues, and especially about fats,” says Ann Bouchoux, Senior Director of Nutrients for IFIC. “This provides a great opportunity to develop consumer-friendly information and education about dietary fats and how they can fit in a healthful diet.”

The study suggests that the messages consumers receive about living a healthy lifestyle are being heard, and that consumers are taking different steps to achieve these goals. Yet there are still gaps that need to be addressed in the shaping of future health communications. Ongoing initiatives to address childhood obesity, pending food safety legislation and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans all offer opportunities to reach consumers about these important topics, which makes the need to understand consumers’ perceptions of nutrition and food safety issues crucial – and timely.

“In order for us to address the obesity epidemic, we need to better understand how to communicate with Americans about calories and determine how we can help them put this information into context in terms of food choices and physical activity,” says Rahavi.

Bouchoux adds, “To help people implement dietary guidance, we all need to work together to make the information easier to understand and relevant for people's daily lives.”

Check back next month for Part II of our coverage on the IFIC 2010 Food & Health Survey, which will look more closely at consumer perceptions about food safety, food purchasing influences and more.