Current Edition

current edition

Decisions to Eat By

Written by Dennis Sun

With the theme “What’s Your Health Worth?” the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 10th anniversary “Food and Health Survey” tells a large story about American’s health and nutrition, including perceptions of their own health, an economic divide on food purchasing decisions, where health and nutrition rank among their competing priorities and the ongoing confusion over dietary and health-related choices.

If you’re like me, when you are in a grocery store or are shopping for food somewhere, you don’t spend a lot of time looking at the nutritional facts on the product. I see what I need or like, and I buy it. Nutritionists would most likely vapor lock at what’s in my cart or arms – I hate grocery carts. But like those who took the survey, I try to buy more nutritious foods.

The survey was taken by 18- to 80-year-old people with a wide spread of income. Specifically, they were weighted by age, education, gender, race and region to reflect the U.S. population. People are changing but not all for the good. Women and those with higher incomes watch their diets and eat better than the average man does. Some of us are still slobs, it turns out.

According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans rate their own health as very good or excellent, yet 55 percent of that group is either overweight or obese. We’re still not omitting data related to our weight, are we? But the vast majority of consumers – 84 percent – say they are either trying to maintain or lose weight. Also, 82 percent of the consumers surveyed said they are making an effort to choose more healthful options by eating more fruits and vegetables, and 76 percent are cutting calories by drinking water or low- or no-calorie drinks. I’ll have to work on that.

The troubling part that I can see is that, of those surveyed in the last three years, the number of people who watched what they ate or exercised has dropped. Not unexpected, women and those in better health rated higher in that category. In comparison to 2013, Americans are making less of an effort to control a number of issues related to their well-being. Taste, price and healthfulness continue to drive food selection, but Americans feel less strongly about these three factors than in 2014. Healthfulness in particular is down from its peak position last year.

Americans also have consistent views about which packaging information they are more likely to look at. However, they report looking at fewer pieces of information when making a purchasing decision. Only 51 percent of consumers look at expiration date, 49 percent at the nutrition facts panel and 40 percent at the ingredients list. Then, a stunning statistic pops up. Only 15 percent of respondents said they look at the country of origin label. I didn’t expect that. Over the last nine years, the information used has varied, but the last three years have shown a general decline for looking at all the items on the package.

The good part is, I think people have found products that are healthy and remained loyal to those products.

I was really disheartened to read the recent review of processed meats and red meats by an International Agency for Research on Cancer that gave an unfavorable account. Science doesn’t uphold their findings, but it keeps adding fuel to the fire. These are just more reasons that we need strong beef and lamb checkoffs to assist our industry in telling the truth about red meats.