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Media drives changes in food decisionsMedia drives changes in food decisions

June 2, 2016

6 Min Read
Media drives changes in food decisions

AMERICANS are hungry for more information about their food, and the media is standing by with the spoon, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation's new survey on food and health, "Food Decision 2016: The Impact of a Growing National Food Dialogue."

The survey found that, during the last year, significant numbers of Americans have changed their minds or behaviors when it comes to food and nutrition issues, and the media is a top driver of those changes.

IFIC Foundation president Kimberly Reed said 2016 will be "a big decision-making year for Americans. Not only do we have an upcoming presidential election involving more conversations with new voters, emerging technologies and changing demographics; we also see more factors influencing Americans' food decisions."

The 11th annual survey showed that the food dialogue has gained momentum over the past year, with factors like health status, gender, income, education and age influencing Americans' views on the foods they eat.

"For the past 11 years, the IFIC Foundation has provided some of the most wide-ranging and compelling insights and trends about Americans' attitudes and behaviors around food, health and nutrition," Reed said.

The survey asked whether Americans' opinions had changed about a number of dietary components. The results showed that an average of 31% changed their minds about at least one of the components, for better or worse. In most cases, media headlines and articles were at or near the top of the list of sources that altered consumers' opinions.

The media was a top reason for consumers to have a less favorable view of enriched refined grains, saturated fat, added sugars and low-calorie sweeteners. Meanwhile, whole grains, plant-based protein and natural sugars were among the dietary components that gained favor with consumers based on media headlines.

Results also showed that Americans want to know more about food and are changing their behaviors based on what they learn. According to the survey, 44% read a book or article or watched a movie or documentary examining the food system and/or commonly held beliefs about diet. Roughly one-quarter of Americans either changed their food purchasing decisions (26%) or engaged with friends, family or co-workers (23%) based on what they read or viewed.

Regardless of where Americans might actually be getting their information, the most trusted sources of information about what types of food to eat are: registered dietitians/nutritionists (70%), "your personal health care professional" (65%) and U.S. government agencies (37%).

The same three groups topped the list of trusted sources of information about food safety, with registered dietitians/nutritionists trusted by 70%, followed by personal health care professionals (57%) and government agencies (52%). The 52% who trust the government for food safety information is a jump from the 42% who gave the same response in 2015.


"Healthy" vs. "natural"

This year, 47% of Americans said they look at the ingredient list on foods or beverage packages when deciding what to purchase, up from 40% in 2015.

When Americans define what makes a food healthy, it's becoming more about what isn't in a food rather than what's in it, IFIC noted. Thirty-five percent of Americans define a "healthy" food as one that does not contain (or has low levels of) certain components such as fat and sugar — the top response when asked an open-ended question.

When given a list of attributes that describe a "healthy eating style," 51% of consumers chose "the right mix of different foods," followed by "limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives" (41%). However, it should be noted that just 2% of consumers identified limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives as a top consideration when not given a list.

"Moderation/serving size and portions" topped the open-ended responses for healthy eating styles, at 26%, followed by "includes certain foods I define as healthy," at 25%.

The definitions of healthy and natural foods are also being conflated. According to the survey, "natural" food is most often associated with having no preservatives or additives (29% of respondents), having ingredients that come straight from nature and whole foods (19%) or having no artificial ingredients or flavors (17%).


Trying to be healthier

According to the survey, 57% of Americans are trying to lose weight, with 23% trying to lose up to 10 lb. and 34% trying to lose 10 lb. or more. To that end, 78% of Americans said they are likely to be more active throughout the day to help with their weight management, and 72% spend more time exercising.

One-quarter of Americans have changed their diet in the past year, most notably by eating more fruits and vegetables, making "small changes" and drinking water or low- and no-calorie beverages — although those who were already in better health were more likely to report positive changes than other respondents.


Trust issues

Media drives changes in food decisions

If food is grown regionally or served at a local establishment, consumers are more likely to trust the safety of that food, survey results showed.

More than 70% of consumers trust the safety of food produced in their region of the country, while just 24% trust the safety of food from another country.

Consumers are also more likely (55% versus 49%) to trust the safety of food from a local restaurant than the safety of food from a national chain restaurant.

The number of Americans whose food and beverage purchasing decisions were influenced by sustainability increased — 41% in 2016 versus 35% in 2015 — although it continues to trail taste (84%), price (71%), healthfulness (64%) and convenience (52%) as a driver of purchases.

Overall, 73% think it's important that food products be produced in a sustainable way. Of those 73%, the most important aspects of sustainability cited were conserving the natural habitat (44%), reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food (43%) and ensuring an affordable food supply (37%). However, just 38% of Americans say they are willing to pay more for food that is produced sustainably.

Seventy percent of survey respondents see modern agriculture as playing at least a small role in ensuring that all people have access to healthy food. As shown in the Figure, a majority of Americans also believe that modern agriculture produces nutritious foods (56%), safe foods (53%) and high-quality foods (51%).

Three-quarters believe farmers and veterinarians should be allowed to treat animals with antibiotics if they become sick. Of those individuals, 47% said this would be okay as long as the animal is kept out of the food supply until the antibiotics are no longer in its system, while 27% said it would be okay to use antibiotics if the animal never enters the food supply.

The IFIC report also notes that three in five respondents say they would be more confident that veterinarians and farms are using antibiotics responsibly if the Food & Drug Administration requires veterinary oversight for all uses of antibiotics.

Volume:88 Issue:06

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