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Most Americans Are Health-Conscious, But Behavior Varies By Age

April 27, 2011

NEW YORK, April 27, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — When purchasing food and beverages, U.S. adults are aware of basic nutritional facts of these products and how to manage their weight. In addition, Americans think that locally sourced produce is an important aspect of food choice. At first glance, the good news is that U.S. adults show a high level of health-consciousness, but whether or not awareness translates into behavior is still in question.

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A closer look at the results shows that as Americans age, they develop stronger purchasing preferences and habits with regard to healthier choices. Matures (66+ years old) are the most likely of all generations to pay close attention to nutritional facts and translate their health consciousness into behavior, possibly because they are more likely to need to follow a diet with specific restrictions, such as with low salt and sugar. The differences in eating habits among age groups suggest that actual behavioral change may, to some extent, be more driven by necessity than by knowledge.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,379 adults surveyed online between March 7 and 14, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

  • Awareness of key nutritional facts is high. At least three-quarters of all U.S. adults place importance on fresh (89%), fiber (81%), whole grains (81%), fat content (80%), portion size (79%), calories (77%) and saturated fat (76%) when making food and beverage purchases. However, more specialized nutritional items are rated much lower with 33% and 20% rating gluten and vegan as important, respectively;
  • Awareness of how to manage a diet is also high. At least seven out of 10 of all U.S. adults place importance on consumption of protein (83%), fat (81%), whole grains (81%), calories (80%), saturated fat (79%), sugar (76%), cholesterol (75%), carbohydrates (74%), and sodium (73%) when thinking of how they manage their diet and/or weight. Hydrogenated oils were rated the lowest in importance at 67%;
  • Sugar and salt drive dietary behavioral change. Over half of U.S. adults (57%) place some type of monitor or restriction on their diet. Sugar and salt are the top two restricted items, with 34% and 32% restricting salt and sugar, respectively;
  • Local is in, but organic lags behind. When asked about broader food-related issues, 71% of U.S. adults rate locally-sourced produce as important when thinking about where their food comes from. Comparatively, only 42% rate organic as important;
  • Matures lead all age groups in diet changes. Three quarters (76%) of Matures have a diet restriction, as compared to 58% of Baby Boomers (aged 47-65), 50% of Generation X (aged 35-46), and 51% of Echo Boomers (aged 18-34). Matures are also more likely to curb their salt or sugar intake than any other generational group; and,
  • Nutrition Awareness is not translating into dietary change for most generations. Among those who rate sugar or salt as important when managing their diet/weight, less than half of these U.S. adults actually restrict their sugar (42%) or salt (47%) intake. The action/awareness gap is even more pronounced when comparing the youngest and oldest generations, where 32% and 31% of Echo Boomers restrict their sugar or salt intake respectively, compared to 67% and 61% of Matures who do.

So What?

The high levels of awareness indicate that the nutritional initiatives in recent years, such as revisions to food labels and increased interest in obesity programs, seem to be effective in creating a health-conscious public; however, transforming awareness into healthy habits is the next step. As noted in a previous Harris Poll “knowledge alone, while important, is not enough to change behavior,” and the current data reinforces this issue.

                                        TABLE 1
                   IMPORTANT WHEN MAKING FOOD AND BEVERAGE PURCHASES

    "When thinking about all of your food and beverage purchases, how
    important are each of the following to you?"

    Base: All adults
                          Important      Very     Somewhat
                            (NET)     important   important
                              %           %          %
    Fresh                        89          60          29
    Fiber                        81          45          37
    Whole grain                  81          47          35
    Fat content                  80          46          34
    Portion size                 79          37          42
    Calories                     77          40          37
    Saturated fat                76          46          30
    Sugar                        72          34          38
    Dairy                        72          35          37
    Sodium or salt               71          37          34
    Carbohydrates                71          29          42
    Preservatives                67          28          38
    High fructose corn
     syrup                       60          31          30
    Artificial sugar             59          31          28
    Packaged food                58          18          40
    Frozen                       52          16          36
    Gluten                       33          10          23
    Vegan                        20           6          14


                             Not                   Not at     Not at
                          important   Not very       all        all
                            (NET)     important   important    sure
                                                  ---------   ------
                              %           %           %         %
                                                     ---       ---
    Fresh                         7           4           3        4
                                                        ---      ---
    Fiber                        15           9           6        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Whole grain                  16           9           7        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Fat content                  17          11           6        2
                                                        ---      ---
    Portion size                 18          12           7        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Calories                     20          14           6        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Saturated fat                21          12           9        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Sugar                        25          16           9        2
                                                        ---      ---
    Dairy                        25          14          11        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Sodium or salt               26          18           8        2
                                                        ---      ---
    Carbohydrates                27          18           8        3
                                                        ---      ---
    Preservatives                30          20          10        3
                                                        ---      ---
    High fructose corn
     syrup                       35          21          14        5
                                                        ---      ---
    Artificial sugar             37          20          17        4
                                                        ---      ---
    Packaged food                38          25          13        4
                                                        ---      ---
    Frozen                       44          30          14        4
                                                        ---      ---
    Gluten                       60          29          31        7
                                                        ---      ---
    Vegan                        73          21          51        7
    -----                       ---         ---         ---      ---
    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

                                     TABLE 2
                   IMPORTANT WHEN MANAGING DIET AND/OR WEIGHT

    "When thinking about how you manage your diet and/or weight, how
    important are each of the following to you?"

    Base: All adults
                                                Not              Not at
                     Important Very Somewhat important Not very    all
                     (NET) important important (NET)  important important
                                                                ---------
                         %      %       %        %         %        %
                                                                   ---
    Protein                 83     39       44      17        11        6
                                                                      ---
    Fat                     81     42       39      19        12        7
                                                                      ---
    Whole grain             81     41       40      19        12        7
                                                                      ---
    Calories                80     39       41      20        13        7
                                                                      ---
    Saturated fat           79     42       37      21        14        8
                                                                      ---
    Sugar                   76     33       43      24        16        8
                                                                      ---
    Cholesterol             75     37       38      25        17        9
                                                                      ---
    Carbohydrates           74     29       46      26        17        8
                                                                      ---
    Sodium                  73     34       39      27        18        9
                                                                      ---
    Hydrogenated oil        67     29       38      33        22       11
    ----------------       ---    ---      ---     ---       ---      ---
    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

                                  TABLE 3
                             FOOD RESTRICTIONS

    "Do you or does anyone in your household monitor or restrict their
    intake of any of the following items?"

    Base: All adults
                          Total                 Generation
                                                ----------
                                     Echo                 Baby
                                   Boomers    Gen X     Boomers    Matures
                                   (18-34)   (35-46)    (47-65)     (66+)
                                  --------   --------   --------  --------
                             %        %         %          %          %
                                     ---       ---        ---        ---
    Any (NET)                 57        51         50         58        76
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Sodium or salt         34        19         27         39        57
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Sugar                  32        22         26         35        52
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Carbohydrates          20        14         14         20        37
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Lactose                10         7          9         12        15
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Meat or meat
        products              10        11          6          9        16
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Dairy                  10         9          9         11        10
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Shell-fish              8         9          8          6        11
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Gluten                  6         4          3          9        10
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Peanuts                 5         5          3          5         7
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       All nuts                4         4          3          3         7
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
       Fish                    4         4          4          2         6
                                       ---        ---        ---       ---
    None of these             43        49         50         42        24
    -------------            ---       ---        ---        ---       ---
    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

                                     TABLE 4
                         IMPORTANT WHERE FOOD COMES FROM

    "Now we'd like to ask about where your food comes from.  Thinking
    again about your food and beverage purchases, how important are each
    of the following to you?"

    Base: All adults
                                                   Not              Not at
                        Important Very Somewhat important Not very    all
                        (NET) important important (NET)  important important
                                                                   ---------
                            %      %       %        %         %        %
                                                                      ---
    Locally sourced
     produce                   71     25       46      29        17       11
                                                                         ---
    Environmentally
     friendly packaging        65     19       46      35        22       13
                                                                         ---
    Animals that are
     fed with non-
     antibiotic animal
     feed                      61     24       38      39        25       14
                                                                         ---
    Wild-caught fish
     and seafood               56     21       35      44        24       20
                                                                         ---
    Bottled water              46     16       30      54        26       28
                                                                         ---
    Packaging that
     contains plastic          45     12       33      55        37       19
                                                                         ---
    Organic                    42     12       30      58        33       25
    -------                   ---    ---      ---     ---       ---      ---
    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

                                  TABLE 5
                           ACTION/AWARENESS GAP

    "Do you or does anyone in your household monitor or restrict their
    intake of any of the following items?"

    Base: Adults who rated sugar, salt, or carbohydrates as important
    when managing their diet/weight
                          Total                 Generation
                                                ----------
                                     Echo               Baby
                                   Boomers   Gen X     Boomers   Matures
                                   (18-34)   (35-46)   (47-65)    (66+)
                                  --------   -------   -------   -------
                             %        %        %         %          %
                                     ---      ---       ---        ---
    Sodium                    47        31        38        50        67
                                       ---       ---       ---       ---
    Sugar                     42        32        36        58        61
                                       ---       ---       ---       ---
    Carbohydrates             27        21        20        26        43
    -------------            ---       ---       ---       ---       ---
    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 7 to 14, 2011 among 2,379 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

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Q835, 840, 845, 850, 855

The Harris Poll® #52, April 27, 2011

By Mary Bouchard, Vice President and Andrew Compagno, Research Manager, Consumer Goods, Restaurant and Retail Research, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Press Contact:
Corporate Communications
Harris Interactive
212-539-9600
press@harrisinteractive.net

SOURCE Harris Interactive


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