Americans want to eat healthier, but aren’t sure how

May 25, 2012

Most Americans (52%) have concluded that figuring out their income taxes is easier than knowing what they should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey.

The survey found that people think a great deal about the healthfulness of their diets and want to make improvements. Yet, 76% agree that ever-changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe. And when it comes to making decisions about food, consumers today rely most often on their own research rather than third-party experts. Six out of 10 Americans have given a lot of thought to the foods and beverages they consume (58%) and the amount of physical activity they get (61%). Yet, only 20% say their diet is very healthful and 23% describe their diet as extremely or very unhealthful; less than 20% meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines.

Additionally, the survey found that 90% of Americans have given at least a little thought to the ingredients in their food and beverages. Consumers say they are trying to eat more whole grains, fiber, and protein, while cutting calories, sugar, solid fats, and salt. However, taste (87%) remains the most significant determinant of food and beverage choices, followed by price, which dropped significantly as a factor compared to 2011, and healthfulness. In terms of trying to lead healthier lives, nearly 60% of Americans believe that online and mobile tools are helpful.

“This year’s survey was designed to reveal consumer behavior, not just thoughts and desires. Clearly, there is a disconnect for many Americans,” said Marianne Smith Edge, Senior Vice President, Nutrition and Food Safety, IFIC Foundation. “Some questions also reveal clear differences based on gender and age. For example, men feel it is harder to eat a healthful diet than to find time to exercise, while women feel just the opposite. The percentage of older respondents who say their diet is very or extremely healthful is about twice the rate of younger people. These are important distinctions for health professionals and others who are trying to help individuals and families improve their diet and health.”

Press release