Empowering Consumers to Close the "Control Gap" Findings from the IFIC Foundation 2013 Food & Health Survey

In our IFIC Foundation 2013 Food & Health Survey, we learned that consumers give themselves high marks for the healthfulness of their diet and their level of physical activity—B- and C+ respectively—yet they recognize room for improvement.  Nearly nine in ten Americans is making an effort to improve the healthfulness of their diet.  These actions range from trying to consume more fruits and vegetables (88%) to trying to consume smaller portions (73%) and balancing calories to manage weight (54%).  Additionally, most Americans are trying to lose weight (56%) and a quarter is actively trying to maintain their weight (27%).  It begs the question, with so many Americans doing something regarding their weight, how much control do Americans think they have?

One’s level of physical activity and diet play a critical role in their ultimate weight status, so it’s positive to learn that when it comes to their level of physical activity, the healthfulness of their diet and even their weight, the majority of Americans believe it is possible to have significant control.  Consumers with higher household incomes feel they can have more control over their physical activity, diet and weight than those with a lower income.  For a measure of comparison, many Americans believe it’s possible to have significant control over their happiness, while fewer believe that is true for their physical attractiveness, the amount of money one can make, and the safety of foods and beverages consumed.

Despite the belief that it is possible to have a great deal of control over their level of physical activity, the healthfulness of their diet and their weight, far fewer Americans report trying to take much control, resulting in a “control gap” in these areas.

  • Level of physical activity: 90% believe a great deal of control is possible; 65% report trying to take a great deal of control.
  • Healthfulness of diet: 88% believe a great deal of control is possible; 68% report trying to take a great deal of control.
  • Weight: 81% believe a great deal of control is possible; 64% report trying to take a great deal of control.

In an effort to better understand the gap between possible control and the amount of control one is trying to take over their weight, the Survey asked about barriers and reasons why people are not taking more control.   The number one reason is a lack of willpower (64%), followed closely by a dislike of exercise (60%).  Additional reasons include:

  • The belief that healthful food is too expensive (54%),
  • Not seeing enough progress (51%),
  • Eating under emotional strain (50%),
  • Having other, more important things to worry about (50%),
  • Not having the time (49%),
  • And not liking the taste of foods that are considered healthful (46%).

Fewer people report their genes playing too much of a role in their weight, not being concerned about their weight, or not knowing enough about how to manage their weight (31%).

As so many Americans are either trying to lose or maintain their weight, it is important to understand barriers that may prevent them from taking more control.  Those who are trying to lose weight report that a lack of willpower and a dislike of exercise are the two biggest reasons they do not try to take more control over losing weight, while those who report trying to maintain their weight are more likely to say that a barrier is that they are just not that concerned about their weight.  These nuanced differences provide great insight into how to better communicate and motivate people to take control. 

While most people think they are in generally good health, they recognize there is room for improvement.  Many are making efforts to improve the healthfulness of their diet and many are trying to lose weight. In order to improve the healthfulness of the American people, it is vital to think beyond the current nutrition communications platform and meet consumers where they are. Ultimately, Americans believe they have a great deal of control over their physical activity, the healthfulness of their diet and their weight, but there are barriers preventing them from taking that control.  Better understanding these barriers will assist in motivating consumers to adopt more healthful lifestyle changes.  This will help develop messages and opportunities to empower Americans to close the “control gap.”