Taking the Pulse of America’s Diet: Findings from the 2014 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey

For the past nine years, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has commissioned the Food & Health Survey.  This year’s Survey, “The Pulse of America’s Diet: From 

Beliefs to Behaviors,” sought to understand the perceptions driving Americans’ food and health behaviors. Historically, the Survey has built on findings from previous years to establish trends in awareness and perceptions, with a few new focus areas each year to illustrate the impact of the food and health environment at the time. The findings this year address the seemingly more emotional food conversations about food, as well as evolving interest by consumers in the healthfulness of their food.

Are emotional food conversations really taking place?
Although conversations about food are taking place, often in public venues such as social media, the Food & Health Survey found consumers’ conversations with friends and family about food and beverage issues are primarily non-contentious.

While most consumers report having had a conversation about food and beverage choices in the past six months, only one-quarter (23 percent) described those conversations as emotional. This indicates that, despite public commentary highlighting many controversial issues in the food and health environment, these discussions are not as emotionally charged as some would suggest.

Healthfulness Closes in on the Price and Taste of Foods in Importance
This year, the Survey found healthfulness has closed the gap behind taste and price as the top determining factors of Americans’ food and beverage choices. While the impact of taste and price remain relatively unchanged in recent years, healthfulness has jumped 15 percent since 2010. Healthfulness impact increased across all ages, ethnicities, education levels, and socioeconomic groups, but the rise is most pronounced among younger consumers and men. Overall, more than nine out of ten consumers have given at least a little thought to the healthfulness of their foods and beverages in the last year, and half have given a lot of thought to healthfulness.

Americans generally believe the healthfulness of their diet is just as important as other priorities in life. While the majority say that spending time with loved ones is more important than having a healthful diet, many feel that eating healthfully is more important than having an active social life. Many Americans put a healthful diet on the same plane as getting enough exercise, minimizing stress, having a healthy financial situation, and feeling fulfilled at their job.

A Work in Progress
Consumers are taking many steps to improve the healthfulness of their diets.

As in 2013, the most common action Americans report taking is eating more fruits and vegetables. Nearly one-third of consumers have begun eating more fruits and vegetables within the past year, and just over half have been trying to do so for more than a year.  At least two-thirds of Americans are also trying to improve the healthfulness of their diets by drinking water and low/no-calorie beverages to cut calories; eating more foods with whole grains; cutting back on foods higher in added sugars; cutting back on foods higher in salt; and consuming smaller portions.

More than half of Americans report that they are trying to lose weight, and one in four indicate they are trying to maintain their weight. Among this group, most say they plan to continue or begin several weight management strategies in the next year, particularly eating smaller portions and tracking and increasing their physical activity. This suggests consumers are beginning to understand the concept that both the calories they consume and those they expend play a role in achieving weight goals.

Slightly more than four in ten Americans are thinking about calories often or always. Women, college graduates, and those who reported being in excellent or good health are more likely to think about calories than others. Less than one-third understand that all sources of calories (sugars, carbohydrates, fats, and protein) influence weight gain equally. Additionally, half of Americans, especially those trying to lose weight, use nutrition information on menus (such as calorie counts) at least some of the time to decide what to have when eating out.

Confidence in Food Safety Sees Gradual Decline
Although Americans continue to remain confident in the safety of their foods and beverages, confidence declined for a second consecutive year. Nearly two out of five Americans have changed the foods they eat in the past year as a result of things they read or heard about food safety. When asked the most important food safety issue when shopping for foods and beverages, one-third of Americans say “getting sick from something I eat” is the top food safety concern, followed by “chemicals in food and in food packaging.” In September, Food Insight will feature additional food safety findings from the Survey.

They Trust Health Professionals for the Information They Need
Furthermore, Americans overwhelmingly identified health professionals as the top trusted source for information regarding nutrition, physical activity, and weight loss. Health-focused websites followed as the second most trusted source. On the topics of food safety, food ingredients, and farming and food production, government agencies are the most trusted source.

For more insights from the IFIC Foundation 2014 Food & Health Survey, including perceptions and behaviors regarding label information and food ingredients and components such as sugars, protein, sodium, caffeine, carbohydrates, and functional foods, view the Executive Summary. Additional resources on the website include video interviews with consumers on Washington, DC’s Capitol Mall, as well as infographics on some of the more insightful findings. Please visit http://www.foodinsight.org/articles/2014-food-and-health-survey.