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For consumers, taste counts more than healthfulness, poll finds

May 23, 2012|By Mary MacVean
  • The majority of people surveyed said they had a hard time figuring out how to eat healthfully.
The majority of people surveyed said they had a hard time figuring out how… (Don Bartletti )

Half of Americans say it’s easier to do their taxes than it is to figure out how to eat healthfully – and 23% described their diets as extremely or very unhealthful, according to an annual survey conducted by an industry-supported nonprofit group and released on Wednesday.

Taste trumps all, with 87% of people calling that the No. 1 factor in their decisions about buying food and beverages. Price (73%), healthfulness (61%) and convenience (53%) followed. (Price was more important for consumers younger than 50, healthfulness for those who are older.) And 87% said they are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the constant drumbeat of information from government, industry and private groups about what to eat and what to avoid, three-quarters of the people surveyed said it’s hard to know what nutritional guidance to believe.

Perhaps it’s also not a surprise that the people most in need – including those already overweight – are more likely to find the information difficult, according to the survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation.

“Clearly, there is a disconnect for many Americans,” Marianne Smith Edge, the foundation’s senior vice president for nutrition and food safety, said in a statement.

Just under a quarter of people described their diets as extremely or very healthful. But 9 in 10 people surveyed described their overall health as good or excellent. That, Smith Edge said, is consistent with other surveys but an increase from previous years.

The survey of 1,057 people ages 18 to 80 was conducted in April and weighted to correspond to the census for various demographic aspects.

One of the battlegrounds over consumer dollars has been front-of-package labels – in addition to the nutrition fact labels mandated by the government. Several private systems can be found on packages, and others have been tried and shelved. Almost half the people said those FOP labels are important to them – almost double the previous year, Smith Edge said.

A few other interesting results:

Just over half the people said they are trying to lose weight; that’s more than said so last year but about the same as in the several years before that. But 23% of obese people and 44% of overweight people said they are not trying to lose weight.

Three-quarters of people said they were trying to improve their diets by such means as eating smaller portions, more whole grains or less fat, sugar or salt.

Sixty-seven percent of the people said they try to eat as little fat as possible, and 75% said they choose products lower in fat at least some of the time. And 51% said they are trying to limit or avoid sugar.

The survey also asked about exercise. Less than 20% meet national guidelines for activity. Most men said it was harder to eat healthfully than to exercise; most women said the opposite.

A majority of people said the federal government’s “My Plate” graphic is clear. The graphic depicts a diet that’s half fruits and vegetables and half grains and proteins, with dairy products off to the side. Asked what might then keep people from eating more produce, Smith Edge said one possibility is a perception that vegetables are not delicious, especially for people who did not grow up eating a variety of them.

More than 70% of the people said they always look at the calories on the labels of packaged goods, and more than half said they look at other things too, including fat and sugar.

About 40% of people regularly buy local foods, such as those from farmers markets, or recyclable food and beverage packaging. This is the first year the survey asked about sustainability, Smith Edge said.

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