Consumers to grab low-fat foods as obesity grows?

Related tags Cent Nutrition Obesity

Openings for low-fat, weight-conscious foods are growing with new
findings suggesting US consumers believe they are to blame for
being obese. While confusion exists over artery-clogging trans
fatty acid, soy foods come out on top with the health message
driving through to consumer minds.

The 11th Annual Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition Study suggests that more consumers now consider the main cause of obesity to be personal responsibility.

According to the study, funded by the United Soybean Board, last year 35 per cent of respondents blamed the fast food industry for the nation's obesity epidemic with 29 per cent citing 'personal responsibility' as the primary cause.

This year, the figures have reversed, with 36 per cent of consumers identifying personal responsibility and 29 per cent blaming the fast food industry for making Americans obese.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with more than 1 billion adults overweight - at least 300 million of them clinically obese - and is a major contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability. Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer.

In the past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited obesity as the number one cause of death related to preventable disease.

Increased consumption of more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, combined with reduced physical activity, has led to obesity rates that have risen three-fold or more since 1980 in some areas of North America, the UK, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Australasia and China, claims the UN-backed World Health Organisation (WHO).

But reasons for the fundamental shift in consumer 'blame' remain unclear. The study of 1000 consumers suggests that 'skyrocketing media attention surrounding the obesity issue', as well as a general move towards concerns about nutrition could have contributed to the changing consciousness.

"Nearly nine out of 10 individuals still agree the Nutrition Facts food label is important. And, 74 per cent of consumers surveyed have changed their eating habits due to concerns about health and nutrition, with 86 per cent concerned about the nutritional make-up of their food,"​ reports the survey.

But improvements in labelling are required with 'consumers still confused over nutrition and health information'. More than one-half of consumers find information on nutrition and health too confusing, and in comparison to last year's results, consumers are more confused about the difference in dietary fats.

The nutrition study stated that: "Forty-eight per cent of consumers surveyed perceive omega-3 fatty acids as a healthy part of their diet, only 32 per cent believed that polyunsaturated fats were healthy for them, and monounsaturated fats were seen as healthy by only 29 per cent of respondents."

Clear and considerable confusion exists over the artery clogging trans fatty acids, due to hit food labels in the US in 2006. According to the study, in comparing trans fatty acids to saturated fats, 40 per cent said they believe trans fatty acids are healthier than saturated fats, while 33 per cent gave the opposite response.

By contrast, the health message sticking to soy appears to have reached the consumer, with the study claiming that 58 per cent of consumers surveyed agreed that soy products could help in reducing obesity.

"Similar to last year, three-quarters of consumers rate soy products as healthy,"​ stated the study.

But there appears to be a price on health. According to the figures, consumer willingness to pay more for healthier versions of foods dropped for the first time in four years, down from 72 to 68 per cent. "Twenty-five per cent of consumers consume soy products more than once a week. More than half of those surveyed expressed an interest in a blended meat/soy product, in order to enjoy the benefits of both protein sources with beef as the preferred ground meat."

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