According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s survey, 57% of Americans rate their own health as very good or excellent, yet 55% of that group is either overweight or obese.
With the theme “What’s Your Health Worth?”, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 10th anniversary Food and Health Survey is offering new insights into Americans’ health and nutrition, including perceptions of their own health, an economic divide on food-purchasing decisions, where health and nutrition rank among competing priorities, and ongoing confusion over dietary and health-related choices.
“For 10 years, the IFIC Foundation’s Food and Health Survey has provided some of the most wide-ranging and compelling insights and trends about Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around food, health, and nutrition,” said Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, IFIC Foundation’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety. “This year’s theme, ‘What’s Your Health Worth?’ delves into the trade-offs Americans make regarding health and nutrition on an everyday basis.”
According to the IFIC’s Foundation’s survey, 57% of Americans rate their own health as very good or excellent, yet 55% of that group is either overweight or obese.
“What I fear is that we’ve reset the bar, in that some people actually don’t know what feeling good is like, but they think they feel pretty good,” said Dr. Jim Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. “So we’ve almost lowered the bar in defining what good health is.”
The vast majority of consumers (84%) say they are either trying to maintain or lose weight. Consumers also report efforts to choose more healthful options in their lives. 82% are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, 76% are cutting calories by drinking water or low- and no-calorie beverages, 70% are eating more foods with whole grains; 69% are cutting back on foods that are higher in added sugars, and 68% are consuming smaller portions.
When asked to rate the most effective weight management strategies, 51% of the survey respondents stated that changing the types of foods was on the top of the list, followed very closely at 50% by making sure they get enough physical activity.
In the IFIC Foundation’s survey, it was also found that higher-income consumers are more likely to buy foods based on their production or source (locally sourced, no added hormones or steroids, organic) and more likely to report avoiding many specific food components and ingredients.
Half of Americans (51%) acknowledge that foods would cost more if processed foods were hypothetically removed from the food supply, with 45% also saying food would become less convenient. 43% say the impact of removing processed foods would be improved health or nutrition.
Lower-income Americans are most concerned about cost impacts if processed foods were removed from the food supply, and they also are most likely than other groups to buy groceries if given an additional $100 a month.
“Findings show that a minority consisting of higher-income Americans, and those in better health, seem willing to pay more for organic and locally sourced foods that claim environmental, safety, and health benefits, despite lack of evidence that these benefits truly deliver,” said Smith Edge. “The potential impact on lower-income Americans is to create doubt about the healthfulness of conventionally or typically available food, adding additional stress and guilt to buying foods that can provide nutritious benefits for everyone.”
While 37% of Americans cite lack of willpower as the biggest barrier to losing or maintaining their weight, 31% cite lack of time.
When asked how much time they spend preparing dinner on a given day, 19% reported less than 15 minutes, with 52% spending between 15 and 44 minutes, and 29% spending 45 minutes or more.
Four out of 10 (40%) say they spend more time tracking the healthfulness of their diet than they do following their favorite sport or sports team (31%), yet there is a significant gender divide: Men chose sports over their diet 46% to 27%, while women chose their diet over sports 51% to 17%.
Taste (83%), price (68%), and healthfulness (60%) continue to be the top drivers of food-purchasing decisions, as has been the case every year over the survey’s 10-year history.
Perhaps more than ever in the survey’s history, consumer confusion is emerging as a key concern. More than three-quarters (78%) say they would rather hear information about what to eat versus what not to eat. That’s the same result as in 2014, but the number who “strongly agreed” with that statement rose 7 percentage points, from 26% to 33%.
More than a third (36%) say that “chemicals” in food are their top food safety concern. 34% of survey respondents wer concerned about foodborne illness from bacteria, despite the fact that the latter has a more serious and substantiated health impact.
While 60% of Americans have confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply, that number has fallen from 10% from 2013, a symptom of the heightened level of “noise” in news coverage and online commentary about food.
“Despite what we see that people want to be told what to do, we continuously tell them what not to do, and I think they’re very, very confused,” said Dr. Hill.
Other findings include:
- Information consumers look at on a product’s label before they buy it includes expiration date (51%), the Nutrition Facts Panel (49%), ingredients (40%), serving sizes and amount per container (36%), calories and other nutrition information (29%), and brand name (27%). Only one in nine consumers (11%) look for no information whatsoever on a food product’s label.
- 86% said they would be able to find the information if they wanted to know something about an ingredient in their food.
- Topping the list of what consumers are trying to get a certain amount or as much as possible of: whole grains (56%), fiber (55%), protein (54%), and calcium (43%).
- Topping the list of what consumers are trying to limit or avoid entirely: sugars in general (55%), added sugars (54%), sodium/salt (53%), trans fats (49%), high fructose corn syrup (48%), saturated fats (47%), and calories (47%).
- Americans have widely divergent definitions of what a “sustainable diet” means, with 39% saying it represents a balanced, nutritious meal; 25% saying foods that are affordable and readily available; and 23% citing foods that have a smaller impact on the environment.
- 66% agree that “the overall healthfulness of the food or beverage is more important to me than the use of food biotechnology,” defined as “the use of science and technologies such as genetic engineering to enhance certain attributes of foods.” 49% agree that biotechnology is a tool that can help ensure we have enough food to feed a growing population, while only 17% disagree.
- One’s personal healthcare professional is the most-trusted source of information about types of food (70%) and about food safety (65%). A friend or family member ranks second for types of food (34%) and third for food safety (29%). U.S. government agencies rank second for food safety (42%) and third for types of food (26%).