Health Perceptions and Food Trends in the United States

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) foundation has published the findings of their 2015 food and health survey. The online survey was conducted between 2012 and 2015. It was completed by 1,007 participants aged 18 to 80 years. Researchers were able to draw a number of conclusions regarding health perception from the data collected.

Perceptions in Health

Positive health perception was most highly associated with a college degree, a higher income, lower body mass index (BMI), absence of non-communicable disease, and being female. In general, those with lower BMIs ranked themselves in better states of health than those with greater BMI’s. However, researchers noted a large proportion of participants who are overweight or obese believe that their weight status was not related to their overall health.

Motivators for Weight Control

When asked for the greatest motivators for weight management, most participants selected improved physical appearance, increased energy and physical mobility, and improved health and wellbeing. The greatest contributing factors to weight management were changing the type and amount of foods eaten and getting adequate physical activity. The most prominent barriers to weight loss were lack of willpower, not seeing rapid results, stress, time, energy, and financial limitations. The report also suggests that the general population benefits most from making their own decisions about what to change and how to go about change. They also seem to prefer positive messaging about what to eat instead of negative messaging by instructing them what to avoid.

Improvements in Diet

Over 50 percent of respondents reported engaging in practices to improve their diet. Thirty-six percent of respondents reported their success in maintaining at least one healthier behavior one year or longer. More than 50 percent of respondents report trying to increase their whole grains, fiber, and protein intake; more than 40 percent report trying to increase their calcium intake. Respondents also reported trying to reduce their intake of added sugars, sodium, trans fats, saturated fats, calories, cholesterol, low-calorie sweeteners, fats, and oils. This demonstrates a conscious effort on part of the adult, American population to adhere to widely disseminated nutrition advice.

Minutes in Meal Preparation

When it comes to meal preparation, the study proved that convenience and time were major concerns of the respondents. 9 percent of survey responders report spending less than 15 minutes preparing dinner, 52 percent spend 15 to 44 minutes, and 29 percent spend 45 minutes or more. African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to spend more time preparing dinner than Whites and men were less likely to spend time preparing dinner than women. Interestingly, when respondents were asked how they would spend an extra 4 hours per week, only 11 percent said they would spend the extra time cooking. This shows that meal time prep is not a major priority for most adult Americans.

Due to this desire to spend less time preparing meals, processed foods have become more prevalent. Study respondents rank convenience, prolonged freshness, and greater affordability as the top 3 most important benefits to processed foods.

Factors in Food Choices

The report states that some consumer trends have remained steadfast. The four most important factors known to guide food choice remain taste, price, healthfulness, and convenience.  However, the study identified a new factor that influences food choice – environmental impact. Parents, women, and millennials were more likely to consider environmental sustainability and food production methods when selecting their food. However, the report showed that consumer knowledge of these issues, labeling terms, and biotechnology is limited.

Sources for Health Information

The report calls for action among Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) who are “uniquely positioned to communicate accurately about these topics.” The report challenges RDNs to “increase their role as the major resource for consumers to obtain accurate, actionable, and relevant nutrition information.” Unfortunately, the report revealed that only 6 percent of respondents had ever seen a RDN. The majority of respondents received their nutrition education from family, friends, and medical professionals. A similar study conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2011 found that 67 percent of those polled identified television as their primary source of nutrition information.  The report expects social media and pseudoscience to continually challenge the expertise of RDNs.

In summary, the factors that impact dietary decisions are constantly evolving. It is imperative for RDNs to stay abreast of the latest trends and to provide evidence-based guidance on these topics. Moreover, it is important that these health professionals seek less traditional avenues of communication to reach their client base as social media becomes increasingly more popular. In doing so, RDNs will be empowering the population to make more informed decisions and to sustain healthier behaviors for a lifetime.

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