WASHINGTON — In its 2017 Food & Health Survey, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) seeks to outline the health beliefs and behaviors of U.S. consumers regarding food. In the 12th edition of the survey, entitled “A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values,” IFIC dives deeply into hot-button food issues such as consumer confusion, navigating the information landscape, sustainability and food safety.
IFIC’s survey consisted of 1,002 Americans aged 18-20 and was conducted by Greenwald & Associates using ResearchNow’s consumer panel. According to the study, 59% of those surveyed considered themselves to be in “very good” or “excellent” health. The majority of participants defined “healthy” as a lack of health problems rather than the presence of healthy habits such as eating healthy, being in good shape or being capable of exercise or physical activity.
When asked how to define a healthy food, adults over 50 were more concerned with the presence of healthy components in food, while those under 50 were looking for foods low in unhealthy components. Participants in rural areas were two times more likely to choose non-G.M.O. foods than those in urban areas. Ingredients such as vitamin D, fiber and whole grains topped the list of ingredients perceived as healthy, while saturated fats are largely perceived to be unhealthy. Freshness, place of purchase and ingredient lists are also major factors that affect the health perception of food.
According to the study, one in three U.S. consumers are looking for foods that will help them achieve weight loss or weight management goals. Fourteen per cent surveyed claimed to have followed a specific eating pattern or diet in the past year, and 58% use nutrition information in some manner while eating outside of the home.
When it comes to consumer trust, two-thirds of participants claimed to have high trust in nutritional advice from a registered dietitian nutritionist, which was significantly higher than from government agencies, news articles or food companies. In addition, one in three survey takers reported that their food choices are dictated or influenced by friends and family members. However, news outlets were still the top source for information pertaining to food safety and recall information. Eight in ten reported to finding conflicting advice about what to eat and avoid, and the majority admitted to doubting their food choices.
A disparity between the desire for a healthy life and the best way to achieve that exists in many areas, including sweeteners. Six out of ten consumers linked added sugars to weight gain, but there is a split — 30% vs 32% — of consumers that choose sugar over low- or no-calorie sweeteners for their food and beverages. Only one in five consumers surveyed had a positive opinion of low-calorie sweeteners, with 30% trying to avoid sweeteners altogether.
Consumer definition of “processed” foods also is increasingly arbitrary. Bagged baby carrots without an organic label were twice as likely to be considered processed foods as those with the label, and nearly 50% of consumers surveyed considered canned carrots to be processed. Seventy-three per cent of consumers who seek non-G.M.O. labels reported that those foods are healthier, safer or better for the environment, with one in five claiming that they don’t have enough information on G.M.O. foods.Overall, the study’s findings showed the importance of consumers’ ability to interpret the barrage of health information coming at them when it comes to making food choices. SNAC International is offering a free webinar for its members on Thursday, June 29, with IFIC’s Alexandra Lewin-Zwedling, Ph.D., vice-president, research and partnerships, and Liz Sanders, director, research and partnerships, in which they will dive deeper into the findings of the study and provide insights on how to best address consumer concerns. The webinar is $100 for non-members. To register, click here.