When it comes to choosing what to eat, taste still takes the cake as the deciding factor for Americans; however price is edging up in importance, and health is still a top concern, according to a new survey.
The opinion poll, released Thursday by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, provides a window into consumer views on a variety of food and nutrition-related issues.
The results show that, while wallets are increasingly guiding what goes into the shopping cart, healthiness has not fallen by the wayside as a concern, weighing in at third place after taste and price, and before convenience and sustainability.
Almost 1,000 Americans were polled for the annual Food and Health Survey, which showed that price has gone up as a concern by 6 percent from last year. Healthfulness has also risen significantly over the past 2 years.
However, although 77 percent of participants rated their current health as “good” or “very good,” and a slight majority say their diet is healthful, the number of people making healthy changes in their food intake has decreased from 64 to 59 percent over the past year.
As a further barrier to making nutritional improvements, Americans don’t seem to have a firm understanding of calories.
“Calorie confusion does prevail,” said Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president of Nutrition and Food Safety at IFIC Foundation. “Many Americans really don’t know how many calories they consume or burn per day,” she said at a press conference.
The report shows that only 9 percent of Americans know the target daily calorie intake for someone of their body type, and only 60 percent can even estimate this number.
And Americans’ knowledge of nutrition education programs is even slimmer. When asked to name an initiative aside from MyPyramid or FDA’s Dietary Guidelines, only 5 percent of those surveyed could do so.
A final obstacle to good health is activity level. Forty-three percent of people described themselves as “sedentary,” a significant increase from last year according to the authors.
The Food and Health Survey found that 50 percent of Americans are concerned about the safety of the U.S. food supply.
And while people see foodborne pathogens as the greatest danger to food safety, the survey found that there’s more they could be doing to protect themselves against food contamination.
The percentage of people who wash their hands on a regular basis has dropped significantly over the past few years, according to the study. In 2008, 92 percent of people surveyed said they took this precautionary measure, by 2010 that figure was down to 89 percent, and by this year it had dropped to 79 percent.
Many food safety practices are being seen less and less in the kitchen. Fewer people say they are washing their cutting boards with soap or bleach, cooking meat to the required temperature, storing leftovers within 2 hours of cooking, or separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat foods.
About half of respondents said they use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat and poultry. Of those that do not, 30 percent said that nothing would encourage them to do so.
Some food-safety advocates say food shouldn’t be contaminated in the first place, but consumers should realize that, in some cases, they’re left to provide the “kill step” to rid their food of pathogens.
“I think the thing that’s important to realize if we’re concerned about the U.S. food supply is that food safety sometimes is in our own hands,” Edge said. “We have to have an opportunity to really make sure that our food is safe by some of these typical day-to-day precautions.”
Some other key findings of the survey include:
— A majority (61 percent) of consumers see food produced in the United States as safer than imported food, citing lack of government regulation as the problem with import safety.
— A disparity exists between how Americans perceive their weight and what their BMI says. 1 in 5 people with an overweight BMI described themselves as “ideal” or “underweight.”
— The majority of people (68 percent) use media outlets as their primary source of food and nutrition information, but friends and family follow close behind, at 38 percent.
— Most people know “very little” or a “fair amount” about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Only 5 percent of people describe themselves as very familiar with the Guidelines, and 19 percent have never heard of them.
— Despite recent recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines to significantly reduce salt intake, but concern about sodium intake has remained the same.
— Respondents would like more guidance from nutrition experts about what foods they should eat, rather than what they shouldn’t eat.
“People really want to know what they can put on their plate, and too many times we’re telling people what they should take off their plates,” Edge said.
The complete results of the survey can be accessed by clicking here.