Increasingly top of mind for aging Americans is to maintain health and reduce the risk of disease. That's according to the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Information Council Foundation's seventh annual 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey of 1,000 American adults.
A majority of Americans (95 percent) believe they have some control over their health and that food and nutrition play the most important role in maintaining and improving their overall health (73 percent). Additionally, most agree with the concept of "functional foods" – that certain foods have health benefits beyond basic nutrition (87 percent). Ninety percent can name a food and its associated health benefit.
From the time these studies were first initiated in 1998, there has been a significant increase in consumer awareness of foods and beverages that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition. Consumers (87 percent) continue to be interested in learning more about these beneficial products that can provide a host of health benefits, from maintaining overall health and wellness to improving heart, bone and digestive health, or contributing to a healthy body weight.
Consumers are most aware of food/health benefit associations related to their top two health concerns of cardiovascular disease and weight maintenance. Additionally, they recognize well-established associations, such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
Source: 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey
Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in awareness of several food/health benefit associations. Sadly, despite increases in awareness, the number of Americans actually consuming these foods for their associated health benefits has generally not changed since consumption data was first recorded in 2005.
Foods and food components Americans look to the most to help improve or maintain their health are: fruits and vegetables, fish/fish oil, dairy, whole grains and herbs & spices.
"Americans have made it clear they want to take advantage of the health benefits of food," says Elizabeth Rahavi, associate director of health and wellness at IFIC (www.foodinsight.org). "But it's not just fruits and vegetables that can have a positive impact on our health. There are lots of healthful components such as antioxidants, fiber, whole grains and soy found in a variety of foods and beverages that can make a difference in our health as we age."
Top components with benefits mentioned in the survey include calcium (92 percent) and vitamin D (90 percent) for bone health, protein (87 percent) and B vitamins (86 percent) for overall well-being, omega-3 fatty acids (85 percent) for heart health and probiotics (81 percent) and fiber (79 percent) for digestive health.
This latest study further explored barriers preventing Americans from consuming foods with health benefits and found price (16.1 percent) and taste (15.4 percent) are the most important factors affecting their decisions to consume these foods. Other barriers include availability, convenience in finding them, knowledge of which foods provide benefits and uncertainty of how to prepare them, among others.
These findings are similar to those of IFIC's 2011 Food & Health Survey, a trending survey exploring consumer attitudes toward food, nutrition, food safety and health. This survey found while taste is still the top consideration that impacts their decision of which foods and beverages to purchase, price, healthfulness, convenience and sustainability also play roles. No other influencing factor has risen at the same rate as price over the past five years.
Consumers look to a number of sources to help them make decisions about foods and beverages. Medical professionals, including physicians and dietitians, are cited as the most believable providers of information about the benefits of food or food components. Medical professionals are also regarded by consumers as the most influential sources in terms of motivating consumers to incorporate healthful foods and food components in their diet.
Consumers also turn to media sources for information. However, compared to 2009, consumers are much less likely to turn to the media. Rather, nearly half of all Americans cite food labels (48 percent), health associations (48 percent) and friends and family (47 percent).