American Consumers are Confused About Diet and Health

Study shows Americans' believe 'figuring out their taxes is simpler than improving diet and health.'

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Calories and Energy Balance: While the majority (71 percent) estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight, 64 percent of them estimated incorrectly with nearly half (49 percent) under estimating. Only 15 percent were accurate. Some 52 percent are unable to provide an estimate of how many calories they burn in a day, or offer inaccurate estimates (19 percent say 1,000 calories or less). And when it comes to calories, only 30 percent correctly believe that all sources of calories play an equal role in weight gain. Twenty percent believe calories from sugars are most likely to cause weight gain, a significant increase from 11 percent in 2011, while 19 percent believe that calories from carbohydrates are most likely to cause weight gain, and 18 percent believe it is calories from fats.   

Physical Activity: Although respondents are evenly split on what is harder to do well between consistently eating a healthful diet (52 percent) and consistently being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day for five days per week (48 percent), the majority report being at least moderately active. It is notable that men are more likely than women to report finding it easier to be consistently physically active than to consistently eat a healthful diet.

The vast majority (94 percent) of respondents have given at least a little thought to the amount of physical activity they get, with 61 percent saying they have given a lot of thought to the issue. Two out of three consider themselves active, though only 11 percent consider themselves to be vigorously active. While physical activity levels have remained relatively steady; fewer Americans (34 percent) consider themselves to be sedentary. Among those who are active, half report they include strength training in their physical activity regimens. Similar to last year, a large majority (77 percent) does not meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines.

Sustainability: Two-thirds report they have given some thought to whether foods and beverages they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way. When asked what actions they purposely take on a regular basis, about 41 percent say they purchase foods and beverages that are advertised as "local," 39 percent report they buy "foods and beverages at farmers markets," and 38 percent purchase "foods and beverages in recycled and/or recyclable packaging."

Dietary Fats: Two of three respondents (67 percent) say they try to eat as little fat as possible, even though a large majority understands that different fats can have different impacts on health. Only 22 percent believe all fats have the same impact on health, yet many are limiting or avoiding several types of fats. While 49 percent say they are trying to avoid trans fat, 32 percent also say they are trying to limit the more healthful mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Lowering fat intake is compelling to Americans; 75 percent say they choose products that are lower in total fat at least sometimes. Weight and health considerations, specifically reducing the risk of heart disease, are the main reasons for monitoring fat content in food and beverage products.

Sodium: Six of 10 consider the sodium content of packaged foods -- almost always due to a desire to limit or avoid it entirely. Seventy-eight percent have taken at least one of six specified actions to limit their sodium consumption, with "limiting the amount of salt I add to my food" being the most cited action.
 
The large majority (81 percent) says they have normal blood pressure although; nearly one in four (23 percent) indicate this is achieved with the help of medication. As one would expect, the share that use medication to maintain a normal blood pressure rises with age. For the 33 percent who say they have high blood pressure or normal blood pressure with medication, the top control strategies are medication (79 percent), attempts to lose weight (68 percent), and reduction of sodium or salt intake (65 percent). For the 63 percent whose blood pressure is in the normal or low range without the use of medication, almost half (48 percent) have taken actions to keep it so, such as reducing sodium or salt intake (29 percent), attempts to lose weight (27 percent), and increasing the type or level of physical activity. Of those Americans who are making an effort to manage their blood pressure, regardless of their blood pressure status, the majority is doing so in an effort to take more responsibility for their health. One in four (26 percent) are making efforts to manage blood pressure because they have read or heard that they should. Fifty-seven percent of those who have high blood pressure or normal blood pressure with the help of medication report they are making an effort to manage their blood pressure due to a doctor's directive.

Carbohydrates & Sugars: When making packaged food or beverage decisions over the past 12 months, 51 percent say they tried to limit or avoid sugars. While more than 4 in 10 (44 percent) indicate they are trying to limit or avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a similar number (45 percent) say they don't pay attention to HFCS. The majority doesn't pay attention to complex (60 percent) or refined (62 percent) carbohydrates when making packaged food or beverage decisions. Weight management (62 percent) and preventing a future health condition (54 percent) are the most common reasons for considering sugars or carbohydrates when making purchasing decisions. Additionally, among those who pay attention to carbohydrates and sugars content, almost half (47 percent) choose products based on the type of sweetener.

Most believe that sugars can be included in a healthful diet. A little more than six in 10 agree that moderate amounts of sugar can be part of an overall healthful diet (62 percent) and that it is not necessary to completely eliminate sugar from your diet in order to lose weight (61 percent). Additionally, 43 percent agree that people with diabetes can include some foods with sugar as part of their total diet. All three responses were significantly higher than in 2011.

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