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Consumer Diet Confusion Continues

New study shows that consumers worry about eating a healthy diet, but ever-changing nutritional guidance is a challenge.

Published on: May 24, 2012

Americans want to eat right, but in a new survey more than half say figuring out a healthy diet is harder than figuring out their income taxes. That's the word from the International Food Information Council Foundation's 2012 Food & Health Survey.

The survey also found that people think a great deal about the healthfulness of their diets and want to make improvement. Yet more than three-quarters say ever-changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe. And when making decisions about food, consumers rely on more than their own research than third-party experts. Six out of 10 surveyed have given a lot of thought to the foods and beverage they consume and the amount of physical activity they get. Yet only 20% say their diet is very healthful and 23% describe their diet as extremely, or very, healthful. Less than 20% meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines.

New study shows that consumers worry about eating a healthy diet, but ever-changing nutritional guidance is a challenge.
New study shows that consumers worry about eating a healthy diet, but ever-changing nutritional guidance is a challenge.

Says Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president, Nutrition and Food Safety, IFIC Foundation: "This year's survey was designed to reveal consumer behavior, not just thoughts and desires. Clearly there is a disconnect for many Americans. Some questions also reveal clear differences based on gender and age."

She says men fell it is harder to eat a healthful diet than to find time to exercise, while women feel just the opposite. Here are some other key conclusions:

  • Overall, 55% of Americans are trying to lose weight. However, 23% of obese consumers and 44% 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% of Americans have given some thought to the sustainability of their foods and beverages, with about 40% regularly purchasing locally sourced or recyclable food and beverage products.
  • Only 17% 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%) believe that the chances are extremely low that they will contract a serious foodborne illness. About half (48%) 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% realized the FDA approves or sets daily intake limits for food additives. About half (46%) of Americans believe that food colors must be reviewed and approved by the U.S. government before being added to foods.
  • Eighty-seven% of parents believe that it is good for their health to sit down and eat meals with their family and 69% 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.