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Americans do not act on nutrition understanding, study

By staff reporter , 17-Oct-2006

Food manufacturers need to continue making nutrition easier for consumers, according to a new study, which reveals that most Americans know how to manage weight gain but do not make the effort to implement changes.

Published by market researcher AC Nielsen, the new study found that 82 percent of American adults acknowledged an individual's responsibility in weight gain, while only 2 percent placed the biggest blame on food companies, and 6 percent on fast food restaurants.

However, despite this focus on personal responsibility, consumers tend not to follow their own advice, said the study.

Some 65 percent of respondents to AC Nielsen's LifeChoices study agreed that reducing junk food consumption would help in weight control, while 61 percent thought the same held true for substituting sugary drinks with water. However, few consumers said they actually followed this advice.

Only the two most commonly tried weight control activities, eating junk food less frequently and reducing meal size, tried by 64 percent and 58 percent of consumers, have trial rates that come close to matching perceived effectiveness.

And according to the study, a major factor in consumers' unwillingness to follow through with healthy lifestyle changes could be the modern "convenience culture'. Nearly one-fifth of US consumers surveyed said that the main factor leading to weight gain is that modern life is too easy for people to make an effort toward healthy living. This cause was beaten out only by lack of exercise (29 percent) and the vast availability of junk food (19 percent).

"Messages about healthy eating and exercise are sinking in, yet consumers aren't taking enough action. This study shows that many consumers consider the lifestyle changes they associate with weight control to be too inconvenient to follow," said Tom Markert, ACNielsen's chief marketing officer.

"There is a huge opportunity for restaurants and food companies to approach consumers with products branded as healthy to make their decisions that much easier," he added.

Indeed, the report finds that more guidance from the food industry could go a long way.

Consumers asked to identify the calorie content of a variety of snacks overestimated the number of calories in each one, and they overestimated the calorie count in 14 of 15 fast food meals.

"This is why you see the recent explosion of foods being sold in '100 calorie packs'," said Markert. "While consumers know the basic facts about healthy eating and exercise, they don't always want to research the finer nutritional points. The easier food companies can make these choices for consumers, the more consumers will respond."

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