The study entitled Shopping for Health 2004 says that Americans are increasingly focusing on their diets to achieve good health, and they believe healthful eating is the best way to manage illness and prevent health problems later in life.
It also suggests that consumers are paying more attention to nutrition labels, purchasing more organic foods because they believe them to be healthier and taking a greater interest in health and nutrition news.
"This country's obesity crisis has alerted shoppers that they need to take control of their health by taking charge of their diets," said Anne-Marie Roerink, the director of research for FMI. "They are increasingly looking to their local supermarkets and other food retailers for effective, long-range solutions."
More than one-third of the shoppers surveyed believed they had a healthly diet, while over a half of them said they were making a concerted effort to eat more healthily.
The majority said this was because they wanted to prevent health problems later in life; nearly 60 percent said it was because they wanted to lose weight, while over a half wanted to use their diet to help manage current health problems. Indeed 74 percent of respondents reported trying to treat themselves before deciding to consult a doctor. Forty-four percent thought eating better would boost self-confidence and 20 percent thought it could help them regain their youthful looks.
The report also asked the shoppers how the food industry could offer healthier solutions. The products most frequently requested (in descending order) were nutritious prepared foods, more foods without trans-fatty acids, more low-fat foods, more low-carb choices and more information about weight loss.
The government has already announced that nutritional labels should be updated to provide more information. The results of this survey seem to justify this decision, with 83 percent of shoppers saying they regularly look at the nutrition facts chart when buying a product for the first time and 91 percent saying they would make a purchasing decision based on this information. More than one-fourth have decided against a purchase in recent months because of product labeling information.
In terms of specific claims, shoppers seem to be looking for produts that are marked low fat, whole-grain, low-calorie and low-salt, and those that say they are high in certain nutrients. Nearly half of all shoppers said they had purchased foods claiming to be high in calcium, vitamin C or to be vitamin-rich or vitamin-fortified.
Shoppers are also purchasing products that claim to reduce the risk of disease. For example, forty-two percent said they had purchased foods purporting to reduce their risk of developing heart disease and 26 percent had bought products claiming to reduce the risk of cancer.
Shoppers also appeared to be buying increasing quantities of organic foods for perceived health benefits. Fruits and vegetables remained the strongest organic category, with dairy products showing the most growth in recent years.
Organic shoppers were more likely to make their purchases at a general grocery store, but specialty retail outlets such as health food and natural food stores and farmers markets still attracted a large portion of the market.
Despite all this interest, the survey conluded that shoppers are confused, with nearly 60 percent of them believe there is too much conflicting information in coverage of nutrition issues, particularly what constitutes a healthy diet, and 30 percent feel the confusion contributes to an unhealthy diet.
The respondents also cited higher costs as a barrier to purchasing healthier foods, as well as a lack of healthy options at fast-food and take-out restaurants.