Americans say lack of willpower preventing them from healthy behavior

June 10, 2013

The vast majority of Americans believe it’s possible to have a great deal of control over their level of physical activity, the healthfulness of their diet, and their weight, yet far fewer are actually taking that control. Those are among the findings of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2013 Food & Health Survey.

According to the Survey, 90% of respondents say it’s possible to have “a great deal of control” or “complete control” over their level of physical activity, yet only 65% are actually trying to take that same amount of control in their own lives—a 25-point “control gap.” In terms of the healthfulness of their diet, there is a 20-point gap (88% versus 68%), and regarding their weight, the gap is 16 points (81% versus 65%). This indicates that there are barriers preventing people from taking more control of their physical activity, diet, and weight. A lack of willpower (64%), the dislike of exercise (60%), the perceived high cost of healthful food (54%), and slow progress (51%) are barriers that prevent Americans from taking greater control over their weight.

“This year, the Food & Health Survey examined the intersection between consumers’ beliefs and their actions, and some of the results are surprising,” said Marianne Smith Edge, Senior Vice President, Nutrition and Food Safety, IFIC Foundation. “Our findings clearly reveal a control gap when it comes to nutrition and health. People think it’s quite possible to control their weight, diet, and level of physical activity, yet many are falling short in their own lives and recognize that it’s easier said than done. It’s important for all of us to recognize the gap and work on countering the barriers.”

When asked to assign a letter grade from A to F to their own diet and physical activity, consumers gave their own level of physical activity an average grade of “C-plus,” while they grade their own diets slightly higher at an average grade of “B-minus.” While Americans acknowledge that there is room for improvement in their diet, they believe they are doing a full letter grade better than other Americans: They rated the diet of the average American at “C-minus.” In order to improve the grade of their own diets, Americans think they should eat a more balanced diet in general, including eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets and snacks.

Taste continues to be the most important factor driving consumers’ decisions to buy foods and beverages, with 89% rating the impact of taste as high, versus 71% who said “price,” 64% who said “healthfulness,” 56% who said “convenience,” and 36% who said “sustainability.” Those numbers are largely consistent with the findings in the 2012 Food & Health Survey; however, healthfulness and convenience have increased steadily since the initial Survey in 2006.

Seven in 10 Americans (70%) are somewhat or very confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply, while 29% are not too confident or not at all confident. While this is still a large majority of the U.S. population, it indicates a significant decrease from the 2012 Food & Health Survey, when 78% were somewhat or very confident, while 18% were not too confident or not at all confident.

Press release