American consumers are getting more information about their food than ever before. However, consumers are still short on nutritional literacy and it may be affecting the nation’s health. Those are just a few of the findings from the 12th annual Health and Food Survey conducted by the International Food and Health Information Foundation. Similar to results from previous years, the Foundation notes that Americans are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conflicting information available. Foundation CEO Joseph Clayton says, “This year, we’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health.” Eight out of ten consumers responding to the survey say they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat and what to avoid. 77 percent of the respondents says they rely in part on family and friends for health information, topping other sources like news programs and the internet. Some of the most trusted sources include registered dietitians, other health professionals, as well as health-focused websites.
From the National Association of Farm Broadcasting news service.
Survey: Nutrition Information Abounds, But Many Doubt Food Choices
IFIC Foundation 12th Annual Food and Health Survey Also Finds That a “Health Halo” Could Be Causing Flawed Food Decisions; Attitudes About Food Vary Widely by Age
Americans are consuming food information from more sources than ever before, yet our nutritional literacy is sorely lacking—and our health may be suffering as a result. Those are among the findings of the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 12th Annual Food and Health Survey.
“As in previous years, the Food and Health Survey has shown that Americans feel overwhelmed by conflicting food and nutrition information,” said IFIC Foundation CEO Joseph Clayton. “But this year, we’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health.”
“As policymakers work to revise the Nutrition Facts panel and define ‘healthy’ on food labels, it’s more crucial than ever before that we empower consumers with accurate information based on the best available science, in terms they can easily understand and put into action.”
The vast majority of consumers—eight in 10 (78 percent)—say that they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat/avoid. More than half of those (56 percent) say the conflicting information makes them doubt the choices they make.
Almost all consumers (96 percent) seek out health benefits from what they eat and drink (the top benefits being weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy, and digestive health), but out of those, only 45 percent could identify a single food or nutrient associated with those benefits.
For example, while sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil can contribute to heart health, just 12 percent made an association between them.
In addition, while people are interested in getting energy benefits, less than 5 percent could name caffeine as providing those benefits.
The “Social Network”: Family and Friends As Nutrition Advisers
So why are we confused? For one, despite their best intentions, the people we’re closest to might actually be leading us astray. In short, consumers paradoxically rely heavily on information from individuals—family and friends—for whom there is little trust.
About three-quarters of consumers (77 percent) say they rely on friends and family at least a little for both nutrition and food safety information, which tops other sources including health professionals, news, and the internet. But only 29 percent actually have high trust in family or friends as information sources, far behind sources such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, other health or fitness professionals, and health-related websites.
Meanwhile, six in 10 consumers (59 percent) rated family and friends as the top influence on decisions about their eating patterns or diets. Personal healthcare professionals were cited by 55 percent of consumers, while all other sources rated only in the single digits.
The Health Halo Effect
The Food and Health Survey also suggests that consumers might be paying too much or making flawed decisions about nutrition because of non-health factors—or mental shortcuts—that drastically alter our perception of what is healthful.
These factors include the form of the food (fresh, frozen, canned), place of purchase (e.g., convenience store vs. natural food store), the length of the ingredient list, and price, among others —and they drive perceptions of healthfulness even between two foods with identical nutrition information.
For example, even with nutritionally identical products, consumers are almost five times as likely to believe a fresh product is healthier than canned and four times as likely to believe a fresh product is healthier than frozen. Consumers also are more likely to believe a product that costs $2 is healthier than an otherwise identical product that costs 99 cents.
For years, some influencers have driven home messages conflating nutrition with non-health values, and now consumers are paying the price—literally, or at the expense of other desired factors such as convenience or shelf life.