Survey looks at consumer health, dietWritten by Natasha Wheeler
On May 12, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation released results from their 2015 Food and Health Survey, titled, “Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition and Health.”
“This year’s survey dove deeper into the trade-offs that Americans make regarding health and nutrition on an everyday basis,” noted Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC senior vice president for nutrition and food safety, during a press conference.
Questions covered topics such as health and diet, dietary components, sustainability and food safety.
“We wanted to get a baseline for how much America has really thought about the healthfulness of their food and beverages,” Smith Edge said.
Similar to previous years, 91 percent of respondents said they have given at least some thought to the healthfulness of their food and beverages in the last year. Additional questions were posed to help determine how health compares to other priorities.
“This year we asked, if given an extra $100 every month, how would consumers actually spend it?” she explained.
Not for health
Six out of 10 Americans indicated that they would save it, invest it or pay off debt.
“No more than 13 percent would actually apply this extra money to food or health options,” Smith Edge stated.
Thirteen percent said they would spend the money on groceries, 10 percent indicated they would dine out more and nine percent said the money would go toward a gym membership or athletic activities.
Survey results indicated that consumers are aware that balancing diet and exercise is important for maintaining health, although lack of willpower and lack of time were the two major barriers that respondents highlighted.
“To explore the time management issue more, we asked consumers, if they had four extra hours every day, what would they do?” remarked Smith Edge.
The top two responses were exercising and spending more time with friends and family, although only 13 percent they would use the time to keep better track of their exercise, health and diet.
“It might be that physical activity is somewhat perceived as requiring exercise. Perhaps it is important that we frame physical activity as a way to actually socialize with friends and family and realize that fun stuff can count,” she commented.
Eleven percent of survey takers indicated they would spend more time cooking or baking.
“This is rather interesting considering that limited time is already spent on preparing an average meal,” she noted.
Nineteen percent of Americans say they spend less than 15 minutes preparing dinner on an average weekday, and over 50 percent say they spend less than 45 minutes.
“About six out of 10 Americans have given some thought to the sustainability of how their food and beverages are produced,” Smith Edge said.
Participants were asked to select up to three options to complete the statement, “A sustainable diet means that the foods you eat…” and 39 percent answered, “represent a balanced, nutritious meal.”
“Lower income individuals and those with less than college degrees were more likely to say that a balanced and nutritious meal was a more sustainable diet, while those with higher income and higher education were more likely to say that a sustainable diet has less impact on the environment,” she continued.
“Affordable and readily available,” “smaller impact on the environment” and “produced in a socially responsible way,” netted responses of 25, 23 and 23 percent of respondents, respectively.
“Perhaps there is some understanding and agreement that sustainability is a three-legged stool,” stated Smith Edge. “It is about environment, economic and social responsibility.”
Looking at food safety, confidence in the U.S. food supply has decreased from 78 percent in 2012 to only 61 percent in 2015.
When asked about food safety issues, Smith Edge commented, “About a third chose chemicals over food-borne illness and bacteria.”
Previous IFIC research indicates that chemicals are likely referring to artificial ingredients, rather than substances such as arsenic, mercury or lead.
“We asked which sources were most trusted to provide accurate information about food type and food safety. We see that it really comes down to a personal connection,” she stated.
Personal healthcare professionals were marked as the most reliable source, followed by friends and family and then U.S. government agencies.
“Farmers, food companies and manufacturers are the least likely to be trusted. Perhaps they are the most likely to be known,” she noted.
Ultimately, Americans would prefer to be told what they should eat, rather than what foods they should avoid.
“Americans need positive, actual guidance to help healthful behaviors rise to the top of their to-do lists, so that we can promote good advice and, overall, instill confidence in the food supply,” Smith Edge said.
Labels and processing
When choosing which foods to put on the table, results from a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation indicate that consumers are using less label information than they have in past surveys.
“On average, consumers report looking at an average of three pieces of information when making a purchasing decision,” explained Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC senior vice president for nutrition and food safety.
Four years ago, people said they looked at seven pieces of information and two years ago, it was five pieces. The top three in 2015 were the expiration date, nutrition fact panel and ingredients list.
“To delve deeper into purchasing decisions, we asked consumers if they buy foods on a regular basis because of product methods or source,” Smith Edge added. “We see this year that four out of 10 people say they buy foods that are advertised as natural, and about 30 percent say they buy foods advertised as no added hormones, organic or locally sourced.”
Consumers favoring these labels tended to be demographics of higher income, women, college educated and deemed in better health.
“When we asked about the benefits most valued of processed foods, we saw that convenience, shelf-life and portability are top-of-mind,” Smith Edge noted.
Hypothetically, if processed foods were removed from the American diet, 51 percent of respondents indicated that they would be most impacted by higher food costs.
“When asked about their perceptions of biotechnology, two-thirds of Americans agreed that overall healthfulness of their food or beverages is more important to them than the use of biotechnology,” continued Smith Edge.
Survey results showed 50 percent of participants agreeing that biotechnology is a tool that can be used to provide enough food for everyone as the world population grows. Seventeen percent disagreed and 33 percent were not sure.