Americans eating their way to health

American food shoppers are increasingly focusing on their diets to improve health, and they believe healthful eating is the best way to manage illness and prevent health problems later in life, according to a new report by the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine.

The "Shopping for Health 2004" report found 34 percent of respondents believe they have a healthful diet, and 55 percent say they are trying “a lot” to eat more healthfully. Fifty-nine percent want to lose weight but have different objectives for doing so.

Three-quarters (77 percent) want to prevent health problems later in life. Other goals of healthier eating are to manage current health problems (54 percent), boost self-confidence (44 percent) and look younger (20 percent). More than half (56 percent) strongly agree that healthy eating is a better way to manage illness than taking medications.

Interestingly, 46 percent report that they have become less trusting of the advice of health professionals in the past year. Meanwhile, 46 percent want their store to offer more nutritious prepared foods, and 36 percent want their store to provide more information about weight loss. Other shopper requests: 45 percent seek more foods without trans fatty acids, 40 percent want more low-fat foods and 39 percent want more low-carb choices.

Some other findings of the survey:

  • Nutrition labels influence purchases: 83 percent regularly look at the Nutrition Facts chart when buying a product for the first time, 91 percent make a purchasing decision based on this information, and 26 percent decided against a purchase in recent months because of product labeling information.
  • Specific product claims shoppers look for: low-fat (63 percent), whole grain (62 percent), low-calorie (52 percent), low-salt-sodium (48 percent). Roughly one-half of all shoppers say they have purchased foods because of certain nutrients -- high in calcium (51 percent), vitamin C (51 percent), vitamin-rich or vitamin-fortified (47 percent).
  • Organics perceived as healthier: Fruits and vegetables remain the strongest organic category, with dairy products showing the strongest growth in recent years. Organic products purchased in the past six months: fruits and vegetables (37 percent), dairy (24 percent), cereals, breads and pastas (24 percent).
  • Barriers to healthy eating: Shoppers take more interest in information, including news stories, about health and nutrition, but many find the information confusing. In fact, shoppers think major media outlets do only a fair or poor job of providing nutrition information in an understandable way. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers believe there is too much conflicting information in coverage of nutrition issues, particularly what constitutes a healthy diet, and 30 percent feel the confusion contributes to an unhealthy diet. Shoppers cite the higher cost of healthier foods as another barrier to healthful eating. And finally, 23 percent of respondents say they are too busy to eat healthily.
Keep in mind that readers of Prevention are more likely to be more health-oriented than the average consumer. The full "Shopping for Health 2004" report is available for $50-100 for nonmembers at www.fmi.org/pub/.

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