Making Dietary Behavior Change A Reality 2014 Food and Health Survey Shows Consumers are in Different Stages on the Path to Improving Their Diets

If your eating and health behaviors were part of a TV reality show, what type of contestant would you be: an American (Health) Idol, a (Health) Apprentice, or a (Health) Survivor? New findings from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2014 Food & Health Survey can help you answer this question and provide novel insights into tips to successful behavior change, based on your Health Profile.

This year’s Survey revealed that consumers are increasingly considering healthfulness when purchasing foods and beverages. This growing interest in the healthfulness of foods and beverages is evidence of a trend among Americans to improve their dietary habits. In order to further understand consumers’ motivations, additional analysis was conducted to segment the data based on stages of behavior change.

The Survey asked consumers about ten dietary behaviors recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (see Table 1) and categorized respondents into three groups according to their progress toward behavior change:

  1. Health Survivors: Those who did not report making any dietary changes, but may be thinking about it.
  2. Health Apprentices: Those starting to make at least one dietary change in their lives within the past year.
  3. American Health Idols: Those who have maintained dietary changes for more than a year.

The Health Apprentices comprised the largest group. Nearly six out of ten Americans (57 percent) reported starting one of the ten dietary changes in the past year. Considering the majority of consumers are making improvements to their diet, this is a big victory for food and health professionals working to empower more healthful lifestyles.

Additionally, 36 percent of Americans fall into the Health Idols group: consumers who have successfully changed their behavior for more than a year and are currently maintaining. Idols are most likely to describe their health as “excellent” or “very good.” Although a small fraction of consumers (7 percent) were not engaged in any of the behaviors, many of them reported thinking at least a little about the healthfulness of the foods and beverages they consume, indicating an opportunity for health professionals to nudge them toward behavior change.

Table 1: Dietary Behaviors Recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

1.     Eat more fruits and vegetables.

2.     Consume smaller portions.

3.     Cut calories by drinking water, low and no calorie beverages.

4.     Cut back on foods higher in solid fats.

5.     Cut back on foods higher in added sugars.

6.     Cut back on foods higher in salt.

7.     Eat more foods with whole grains.

8.     Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower

9.     Cut back on full fat dairy and replace with a low- or no-fat alternative.

10.  Balance calories to manage my weight.


Decoding the Health Behavior Profiles

Each Profile is identified by distinct characteristics, outlined in Table 2. Some of the most compelling differences are related to age, weight, calories, and meal planning. For example, with each successive stage, the mean age increases, with significantly more Millennials falling into the Survivor and Apprentice stages, and more 65-80 year olds maintaining behavior changes. Survivors are the least likely to be doing anything regarding their weight or to plan ahead for meals. Apprentices, on the other hand, are the most likely to be trying to lose weight and to believe health benefits advertised on food packaging. These insights may help improve health professionals’ understanding of consumers’ motivations in each successive stage of behavior change, which will allow them to tailor plans that cater to their client’s or patient’s behavior.


Table 2: Profile Characteristics

Health Survivors

  • Younger, on average
  • Higher rate of those with less than a high school education
  • More likely to be male
  • Most likely to be single, never married
  • Most likely to be doing nothing regarding their weight
  • Least likely to plan for meal occasions

Health Apprentices

  • More females and college graduates than Survivors
  • More Millennials and obese than Idols
  • Most likely to be trying to lose weight
  • More likely to eat smaller portions and substitute lower calorie for full-calorie alternatives, among those trying to lose or maintain weight
  • Most likely to believe in statements in the media and on food product labels about foods offering health benefits
  • Most likely to use coupons and in-store discounts when shopping

American Health Idols

  • Older, on average
  • Less likely to have children in the household
  • Less likely to believe statements in the media and on food product labels about health benefits
  • Most likely to describe their health as “excellent” or “very good”
  • Most likely to consider specific nutrients or ingredients when purchasing foods and beverages.


Additionally, compared to Survivors, both Apprentices and Idols are more likely to:

  • Prioritize the healthfulness of their food
  • Give some thought to issues related to food, nutrition, and physical activity
  • Have increased their level of physical activity in the past two years
  • Use nutrition information when eating out
  • Think about calories always or often
  • Plan for eating occasions.

The full Profile results can be found at: While it is important not to generalize these results to all individuals, this information can set the foundation for more tailored interventions and incorporating behavioral science approaches into public health initiatives and community program planning.

Empowering Behavior Change

Considering that attitudinal and behavioral patterns differ across the various stages of change, and even within each group, how can health professionals empower consumers to transition from thought to action?

According to behavioral theorist Dr. James Prochaska, founder of the Transtheoretical Model for behavior change, certain strategies are aligned to more effectively move specific people through the stages of behavioral change.1 For example, Survivors, who may or may not be thinking about the healthfulness of their diet, would benefit more from strategies that inspire new thoughts and emotions about the importance of eating healthfully or the risks of not doing so. Apprentices and Idols, on the other hand, would be better served by strategies that reinforce their initial commitment to behavior change.

Practical applications of these strategies, using weight loss as an example shown below (Adapted from the Cancer Research Prevention Center2):

Weight Loss Strategies to Empower Transition through Stages of Behavior Change

1). Initiating Thought

  • Sharing success stories on weight loss
  • Providing emotional warnings about the health risks of overweight/obesity
  • Offering inspiration on how weight loss will help them to meet their other goals

2.) From Thought to Action

  • Encouraging self-reevaluation, advising them that self-contentment includes managing weight through calorie balance.
  • Making personal commitments to calorie balance and weight loss goals
  • Inspiring self confidence that weight loss can be achieved with perseverance.

3.) From Action to Maintenance

  • Using substitutive behavior to deal with the temptation of overeating
  • Placing reminders around home and work to practice calorie balance
  • Giving rewards for achieving weight loss milestones
  • Confiding in trusted family members or friends about their experience of weight loss and managing calories.


Along with these strategies, motivational interviewing techniques can be tailored to individuals’ stage of change. Health professionals working one-on-one with clients can use the Survey insights to understand the common obstacles, attitudes, and skills needs associated with each stage and look to address those in early counseling interactions. Practical opportunities, such as these, to integrate behavioral science approaches into dietary interventions may serve as the framework for greater success.

What Is Your Health Reality? Take Our Quiz!

Wondering whether you are a Survivor, Apprentice, or Idol? How do your friends, family, and neighbors compare, and what actions could you take to step up your health game? Based on several distinct group characteristics, the IFIC Foundation is offering a quiz to suggest what stage of health behavior change you’re in. The questions and scoring are scientifically based and use Food & Health Survey data to pinpoint your profile type.  Take the quiz on the Food Insight Facebook page  or website. Those taking the quiz will gain access to more information about their profile, quick tips on improving their health and wellness behaviors, and share feedback on their results.

Health professionals who work with clients/patients representing a range of profiles will also receive tips from experts in the field for using the behavior change profiles in their work, along with insightful demographic findings.

Register for the IFIC Foundation Behavior Profile Webinar!

The IFIC Foundation will host a webinar on October 28, 2014 from 1:00-2:00 pm ET to share insights from the profiles and strategies to empower transitioning from thought to action, as well as implications for public health initiatives. To learn more about the webinar and register, click here.

Speakers on the webcast include:

  • Martin Binks, PhD, FTOS, Texas Tech University
  • Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, PhD, RD, FAND, Rutgers University
  • Jason Pelzel, MPH, RD, IFIC Foundation


  1. Prochaska JO, Redding CA, Evers KE. The transtheoretical model and stages of change. In: Health behavior and health education: theory, research, and practice. 2002. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Cancer Prevention Research Center. Weight: Processes of Change.  Accessed Sep. 14, 2014.

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