Consumers link diet/heart disease but have label trust issues

More than half of consumers in the U.S. often read the food label when buying a product for the first time, and they are also increasingly aware of the link between diet and heart disease. Those are among the key findings that the FDA has released from its 10th Health & Diet Survey of more than 2,500 adults in every state in 2008, and is a snapshot of the nation's dietary habits.

Among the highlights of survey findings on how diet affects health, more U.S. consumers know of the relationship between diet and heart disease (91 percent), an 8 percent jump from 2002. In addition, 62 percent mentioned fats as a factor related to heart disease, compared to 53 percent in 2002. Eighty-one percent know that certain foods or drinks may help prevent heart disease or heart attacks -- no change from 2002. While fruits and vegetables were most frequently linked with reducing heart disease, fewer people made this link in 2008 than in 2002. Consumers' awareness that trans fats in the diet may raise the risk of heart disease nearly doubled over just four years, from 32 percent in 2004 to 62 percent. Correct identification that omega 3 fatty acids may lower the risk of heart disease increased, from 31 percent in 2004 to 52 percent in 2008, and knowledge that saturated fat may raise the risk of heart disease was stable: it was 74 percent in 2004 and 73 percent in 2008.

More than half (54 percent) said they read a product's label the first time they buy the product, a 10 percent increase from 2002. Among those who in 2008 reported they read the nutrition label the first time they buy a product, two-thirds use the label "often" to check how high or low a food is in calories and in substances such as salt, vitamins, and fat, 55 percent "often" use the label to get a general idea of the food's nutritional content, 46 percent "often" use the calorie information on the label, and 34 percent rarely or never use the calorie information. Thirty-eight percent said they use nutrient content claims (such as "low fat," "high fiber," and "cholesterol-free") "often"; 34 percent answered "sometimes, " and when asked if they refer to the label claim of "0 grams of trans fat," 31 percent said "often" and 36 percent said "sometimes."

Trust about claims was an issue. For example, 41 percent believe that all or most of claims such as "low fat," "high fiber," or "cholesterol free" are accurate, while 56 percent believe that some or none of them are accurate.