Food & Health Survey

Every year the IFIC Foundation runs a Food and Health Survey to ascertain attitudes towards food and diet, how information sources affect choices, and how those choices affect health. While the survey is undertaken in America, and largely speaks to that market, the findings are always interesting and often an indication of what’s happening globally. Last year’s survey highlighted the following four key findings:

1. Food Confusion

Eight in ten (78%) consumers say they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what they should eat and what they should avoid – 56% say it makes them doubt their food choices. Nearly all (96%) said they look for the health benefits of what they’re consuming – the leading benefits being weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy and digestive health – but only 45% of these people could actually connect a certain food to those benefits.

2. Family and Friends as Nutrition Advisors

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that one in four consumers rely on their friends and family for nutrition and food safety information, while paradoxically these are the least trusted sources of information as opposed to others such as registered dieticians or health-focused websites.

3. The Health Halo Effect

Consumers are making decisions about nutrition based on non-health factors. They are letting factors like whether a product is fresh, frozen or canned; where it is bought; the length of the ingredient list; and the price dictate whether they consider the product healthy or not. ‘For example, even with nutritionally identical products, consumers are almost five times as likely to believe a fresh product is healthier than canned and four times as likely to believe a fresh product is healthier than frozen. Consumers also are more likely to believe a product that costs $2 is healthier than an otherwise identical product that costs 99 cents.’

4. Older Americans

The fastest-growing demographic in America is those aged 50+. The foundation decided to conduct an oversample of those respondents to see what their approach to food and health choices uncovered. Results showed that they are more confident in their choices; they use fewer information sources when deciding what to eat or avoid; they are more likely to adopt and maintain healthy eating behaviours; and they are more likely to be able to connect specific foods with the health benefits they’re after.

Again, while this is based on the American market, these findings are all applicable to South Africans in some way – many of us struggle with food confusion and who to take guidance from; and we also suffer from the health halo effect, believing pre-conceived ideas about a food item rather than its factual nutritional content. And the last finding amongst baby boomers and the like is particularly interesting – proof that the younger generation don’t always know everything.