Survey Says Consumers Believe Food Can Aid Health

IFIC survey finds consumers believe foods and beverages can aid health.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Improving HealthRating their health

Although the majority of respondents (81 percent) rate their health status as “excellent,” “very good,” or “good,” significantly fewer (58 percent) say they are “somewhat” or “extremely satisfied” with their health status. This gap indicates that, while many Americans consider themselves healthy, some perceive room for improvement. In fact, significantly more Americans (64 percent) say they are making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diets, compared to 2006 (57 percent). Americans are making these changes in an effort to improve their overall well being (64 percent) and to improve their physical health and/or lose weight (both 61 percent).

Those most likely to look beyond basic nutrition

Consumers most likely to “strongly agree” certain foods have benefits beyond basic nutrition are those who report their health status is “excellent” (71 percent vs. 51 percent “good” and 44 percent “fair” or “poor”); dietary supplement users (58 percent vs. 44 percent non-users), those with a college education (60 percent vs. 49 percent of those who have a high school degree or less and 53 percent of those who have some college); and those who are single (56 percent vs. 47 percent of those who are married).

Top health concerns

Heart-related and circulatory conditions, including general heart health, blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol, remain top health concerns for consumers. Almost half (48 percent) of all respondents cite cardiovascular disease as their top health concern, which is a significant decrease from 2007 (53 percent) and 2005 (54 percent). This decline may be the result of significantly fewer Americans reporting concern about cholesterol this year (9 percent) compared to 2007 (13 percent). Consistent with 2007, the number of consumers mentioning weight as a top health concern remains higher than cancer (31 percent vs. 24 percent), and that has more than doubled since 2000. Diabetes remains as the fourth largest health concern (17 percent). Nutrition/diet remained stable compared to 2007, but is elevated from previous years (16 percent in 2009 and 2007 vs. 7 percent in 2005 and 12 percent in 2002). More Americans also cite exercise as a top health concern this year (14 percent) compared to 2007 (11 percent).

Foods and associated health benefits

Similar to 2007 and 2005, nine out of 10 Americans are able to name, on an open-ended or unaided basis, a specific food or food component and its associated health benefit (92 percent in 2009 and 2007 and 91 percent in 2005). This represents a significant increase compared to 84 percent in 2002; 82 percent in 2000; and 77 percent in 1998. The top functional foods named by consumers (unaided) are: fruits and vegetables, fish/fish oil/seafood, dairy (including milk and yogurt), meat and poultry, herbs/spices, fiber, tea and green tea, nuts, whole grains and other grains, water, cereal, oats/oat bran/oatmeal, and vitamins/supplements.

Seven out of ten (71 percent) consumers name fruits and vegetables as foods that provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, either generically or specifically, which has significantly increased from 2007 (66 percent). Significantly more mention fruits (48 percent) compared to 2007 (37 percent) while slightly fewer mention vegetables (40 percent in 2009 vs. 44 percent in 2007).

Food components/health benefit awareness 2009 vs. 2007

Components with the highest level of awareness (93 percent to 81 percent) include: calcium for promotion of bone health (93 percent vs. 89 percent); vitamin D for promotion of bone health (90 percent vs. 81 percent); whole grains for reduced risk of heart disease (83 percent vs. 72 percent); and antioxidants for protection against free radical damage (81 percent vs. 72 percent).

Components with the second highest level of awareness (78 percent to 70 percent): potassium for reduced risk of heart disease and stroke (78 percent vs. 64 percent); B vitamins for reduced risk of heart disease (78 percent vs. 61 percent); monounsaturated fats for reduced risk of heart disease (73 percent vs. 63 percent); omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive development, especially in children (72 percent vs. 53 percent); probiotics for maintaining a healthy digestive system (72 percent vs. 58 percent); probiotics for maintaining a healthy immune system (71 percent vs. 54 percent); and folic acid for reduced risk of heart disease (70 percent vs. 55 percent).

Components with the third highest level of awareness (61 percent to 45 percent): lycopene for the reduced risk of prostate cancer (61 percent vs. 49 percent); herbs and spices for reduced risk of chronic disease or weight management (60 percent vs. 46 percent); prebiotic fiber for maintaining a healthy digestive system (60 percent vs. 48 percent); lutein and other carotenoids for maintaining eye health (59 percent vs. 52 percent); soy/soy protein for reduced risk of cancer (55 percent vs. 47 percent); and plant sterols for reduced risk of heart disease (45 percent vs. 30 percent).

Personalized nutrition

Consumers were asked how much they have heard or read about using individual genetic information to provide personalized nutrition or diet-related recommendations, or nutrigenomics. Results indicate that awareness is similar to 2007. Approximately half of Americans report knowing “a little bit” about this practice (46 percent). The percentage of Americans in 2009 knowing “a lot” or “a fair amount” about this practice (24 percent) remained stable since 2007 (25 percent), however, this is elevated from when the question was first asked in 2005 (18 percent). More specifically, those who report knowing “a lot” about this practice remained stable (5 percent vs. 4 percent in 2007 and 5 percent in 2005). However, consumers stating they know “a fair amount” about this practice rose significantly from 13 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2007, and remained stable in 2009 (20 percent). Those who say that they know “nothing” about this practice has decreased from previous years (30 percent vs. 33 percent in 2007 and 37 percent in 2005).

Influencers on purchasing decisions

When asked about the impact convenience, healthfulness, price, and taste have on their decision to buy foods and beverages, taste remains stable and in the highest position (87 percent in 2009 vs. 84 percent in 2008 vs. 88 percent in 2007 vs. 85 percent in 2006). Price continues to significantly increase in importance since 2006 (74 percent in 2009 vs. 70 percent in 2008 vs. 72 percent in 2007 vs. 64 percent in 2006) while convenience (52 percent) and healthfulness (61 percent) remain relatively stable.

Top sources of health information

The mass media continue to be Americans’ top source of information on health and nutrition (unaided). Similar to 2007, nearly three-quarters of Americans name the media (70 percent), including the Internet (54 percent), television news (25 percent), and magazines (22 percent), among their top sources of information about health and nutrition. Similar to 2007, roughly one third of consumers name medical sources (34 percent), primarily physicians (31 percent), as a top source of information on health and nutrition. However, this reflects a significant decrease from 2005 (44 percent mentioning medical sources and 43 percent mentioning physicians). There was a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who name friends, family, and themselves as a top source of information (23 percent vs. 18 percent in 2007).

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