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Canadians opt for nutritious foods as they age, study

By staff reporter , 17-Feb-2006

Canada's aging population and improved food labeling practices have started a trend away from fad diets and toward a more balanced and healthy eating pattern, according to a new study.

And although they may continue to make the "odd indulgence," this is not at the expense of more nutritious foods that claim health benefits, said the NPD group's recent Eating Patterns in Canada (EPIC) report.

"The convergence of aging, nutritional transparency in relation to labeling and the role of women at work and at home have influenced our eating trends for the better," said Marion Chan, food and beverage director at NPD.

Indeed, the report points out that consumers are increasingly influenced by food labels, and the general shift towards more convenient nutritious foods is exemplified by the fact that 35 percent of snack foods purchased have a label claim such as low fat or low sugar.

"Food manufacturers have taken note of the shifting trend and have started to put a greater emphasis on labeling, packaging and promotion, particularly to women that are the primary shoppers and prepare most meals," said Chan.

According to the NPD group, which tracks consumer eating habits using methods such as food diaries, consumers over the age of 45 are the key group impacting the nation's eating trends.

Around 61 percent of over 45 year-olds said they check product labels, with 65 percent avoiding saturated fats, 63 percent avoiding MSG, 62 percent being turned away by cholesterol and 58 percent by salt.

And Canadians over 45 are also more likely to follow the Canadian Food Guide, with 42 percent claiming it as a nutritional guide in 2005, compared to 33 percent of the rest of the population.

The 2005 EPIC report also identified a growing impact of working women on a household's food choices.

"In 2005, 65 per cent of Canadian women were in the work force. Nevertheless, in 80 percent of households, women are the primary grocery shopper and in 81 percent of households, they are responsible for meal preparation," said the report.

And because women are increasingly faced with balancing work and household responsibilities, prepared or semi-prepared meals are becoming more popular. According to EPIC, the "need for simplicity" resulted in 53 percent of Canadian dinners in 2005 including at least one prepared or semi-prepared item, such as pre-seasoned frozen chicken.

"Simplicity in meal preparation is having a direct impact on what, when and how much we eat, but it is ultimately a balance between convenience, taste and nutrition that consumers want," said Chan.

"As this trend continues, manufacturers and retailers who develop and successfully market nutritious, tasty and easy to prepare meals for Canadian families will do well," she added.

But even if Canadian consumers appear to be opting for more nutritious foods, the nation is no exception when it comes to rising incidences of obesity. According to a recent study the medical journal CMAJ, the number of people suffering from the most extreme form of the disease, class III obesity, increased by 225 percent between 1990 and 2003.

This trend is similar to one reported in a US study in 2002, which revealed a 175 percent increase in class III obesity between 1990 and 2000, but the prevalence of this level of obesity still remains lower in Canada than in the US.

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