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Nutrition message still not reaching Americans, FDA survey

By Clarisse Douaud , 06-May-2008

The findings of FDA's latest survey on health and nutrition underscore that while US consumers have good health intentions, this does not carry through to their dietary habits.


The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) worked with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to track American attitudes, knowledge and behavior regarding nutrition and physical activity in the Health and Diet Survey: Dietary Guidelines Supplement.



The results reveal there is still room for food manufacturers to leverage consumers' good intentions and desire to be healthy, with easy-to-understand healthy food offerings.



According to the finding, most respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with the statements, "Healthy eating habits are very important to me" (95 percent) and "I am actively trying to eat a healthy diet" (90 percent).



"Although many Americans agree that they are actively trying to balance the amount of food they eat with the exercise they get and that they are making healthier choices than they were (six months ago), their reported intake of whole grains, milk products, fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, sodium and sugar revealed mixed adherence to attitudes and intentions," indicates FDA's report.



The FDA survey was conducted by means of telephone interviews from November 14, 2005 to February 6, 2006. A total of 1,221 adults completed the survey, for a response rate of 31 percent.



The findings of the report concurred with those of earlier studies showing that attitudes to health vary greatly across gender, age and level of education.



FDA found in the survey that women were more likely than men to agree that nutrition is important and were also more likely than men to take on healthier habits. Of the respondents, 70 percent of women agreed that nutrition is important to take into consideration while food shopping, while only 54 percent of men thought so.



In addition, the female respondents appeared to be more aware of their level of physical fitness or health than men.



"Women are also more likely than men to identify themselves as overweight, even though after calculating Body Mass Index scores from self-reported heights and weights, men are more likely to be categorized in the overweight category," said the report.



Despite increased health marketing during their generation, the youngest group of the survey's respondents were the least likely to consider nutrition very seriously while grocery shopping.



In the 18-34 age bracket, 52 percent considered nutrition to be very important, followed by 64 percent of those in the 35-54 bracket, 69 percent for 55-64 year olds, and 71 percent of those 65 or older.



"Adults in the 18-34 years old group also are less likely to avoid unhealthy nutrients such as cholesterol, sodium and trans fat," indicated FDA in the report.


However, this is likely also associated with the fact that this age group also tended not to perceive itself as out of shape or in bad health - they were most likely to report as being "about the right weight".



Meanwhile, the greater the level of education, the greater the chances are a person engages in healthier dietary habits and exercise patterns.



"Adults who have attained at least some college education are more likely than those with a high school education or less to report a better current state of health, to say that nutrition is very important, and to look for nutrition information from Federal government sources," said the report.



A baseline survey was begun just prior to the launch of the sixth edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans in January, 2005, and repeated a year later.

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