Reading food blog
Thirty-three per cent of millennials say they trust health, food and nutrition bloggers.

COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO — As more food and nutrition information becomes available, more consumers are seeking and trusting information from unreliable sources, defining healthy food by what it does not contain, showing mixed opinions about sugar and bioengineered foods and are not always understanding labels, according to survey results presented at the International Sweetener Symposium held July 29 to Aug. 3 in Coeur D’Alene.

Millennials are more likely to trust friends, family and bloggers, said Kris Sollid, a registered dietitian and director, nutrition communications, International Food Information Council (IFIC) and the IFIC Foundation. While 68% of millennials trusted their personal health care professional for information about the types of food they should eat, 41% also trusted a friend or family member, 33% trusted health, food and nutrition bloggers and 28% trusted U.S. government agencies, according to an IFIC Food and Health Survey.

Kris Sollid, IFIC
Kris Sollid, registered dietitian and director of nutrition communications forIFIC

“Bloggers aren’t always the most credible sources of information,” Mr. Sollid said.

In efforts to improve their diets, 45% of millennials in the IFIC survey said they had used support from family and friends, 36% used an app, 24% used a weight loss plan and 17% used a medical professional.

(Totals in the above two examples add up to more than 100% because respondents could choose multiple answers.)

Reading weight loss food app
In efforts to improve their diets, 36% of millennials say they have used an app.

Despite millennials’ heavy use of technology, people overall were more likely to “trust a great deal” shopping in store in person (44%) rather than on-line (12%) and the safety of food produced in their region of the country (18%) than food from other countries (3%), and safety of food from a local restaurant (9%) than from a national chain restaurant (6%), the survey showed.

Mr. Sollid noted differences between liberals and conservatives on issues related to food and health. Liberals are more likely to trust the U.S. government on such issues and wanted more information than is currently included on food labels, he said.

People in the survey most often associated “natural” with having no preservatives or additives (29%), whole foods (19%), no artificial ingredients or flavors (17%), no chemicals, hormones, pesticides or antibiotics (14%) and no processing (11%) among other reasons, including “fresh” at 2%.

Natural food products
People in the survey most often associated “natural” with having no preservatives or additives.

The IFIC survey showed 22% of respondents had a favorable impression of the use of biotechnology in food production (with college graduates, higher income and men most likely), 26% had neither a favorable or unfavorable view, 27% had an unfavorable impression and 25% didn’t know enough about it to have an opinion.

Forty-two per cent of those in the IFIC survey said they would like to see expanded labeling of G.M.O. ingredients. When not prompted with “G.M.O.” in the question, only 16% of those surveyed said they wanted more information on labels, and of those, 20% wanted G.M.O. labeling, 17% wanted more accurate labels and 15% wanted country-of-origin labeling. Only 5% (of the 16%) wanted labeling of sugars.

Over at least the last decade, the reasons people decide to buy foods and beverages have been consistent, with taste maintaining the top position at 84% in 2016, followed by price at 71%, health and fitness at 64%, convenience at 52% and sustainability at 41%.  

Sugar nutrition label
Twenty-six per cent of millennials believe sugars are the source of calories most likely to cause weight gain.

The IFIC survey showed that 26% of millennials believed sugars were the source of calories most likely to cause weight gain, with carbohydrates at 22%, fats at 17% and all sources equally at 20%. Survey data indicated millennial women were significantly more concerned about the type and amount of sugars and carbohydrates they consumed than were men, and that concern increased among both men and women as income increased.

Mr. Sollid concluded with four points: the way people want to receive information has changed (“just the facts” no longer works); the way food is labeled and talked about makes a difference (consumers are listening); communication methods will differ based on audience; and comprehension of the Nutrition Facts Panel is low (especially added sugars).

IFIC is a non-partisan, non-lobbying Washington-based non-profit group that communicates science-based information on food issues to those providing information to consumers. The IFIC Foundation has as its purpose “to effectively communicate science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good.” Funding is provided by the food, beverage and agricultural industries as well as by significant government grants.

The Symposium is sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance, which represents U.S. beet and cane sugar producers.