nutrition information-información nutricional

Excess Nutrition Information in Food Causes Confusion and Health Risks

Americans feel overwhelmed by conflicting food and nutrition information, and as a result, their health may be affected, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey.

The investigation revealed that vast majority of consumers—eight in 10 (78 percent)—say that they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat/avoid. More than half of those (56 percent) say the conflicting information makes them doubt the choices they make.

“A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values,” marks the 12th edition of an ongoing investigation into the beliefs and behaviors of Americans, prepared by the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

In the past, the survey has shown the consumers overwhelm feeling caused by the abundance of nutrition information, explained Joseph Clayton, IFIC Foundation CEO. “But this year, we’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health.”

Highlights:

  • Most Americans encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat/avoid. More than half of those say it makes them doubt the choices they make.

  • About three-quarters of consumers say they rely on friends and family at least a little for both nutrition and food safety information. But only 29 percent actually have high trust in family or friends as information sources.

  • Consumers might be paying too much or making flawed decisions about nutrition because non-health factors—or mental shortcuts— that drastically alter our perception of what is healthful.

  • Baby Boomers and older Americans diverge significantly from other age groups when it comes to food attitudes and decisions.

Dietitians and healthcare professionals are among the most trusted sources, yet consumers are instead turning to friends and family to help guide food choices. This discrepancy – those trusted vs those relied on – adds to the confusing nutrition information landscape consumers confront each day.

Almost all consumers (96 percent) seek out health benefits from what they eat and drink (the top benefits being weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy, and digestive health), but out of those, only 45 percent could identify a single food or nutrient associated with those benefits.

Related: Top 10 FDA Nutrition Facts Label Changes

For example, while sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil can contribute to heart health, just 12 percent made an association between them.

In addition, while people are interested in getting energy benefits, less than 5 percent could name caffeine as providing those benefits.

Why the consumer’s confusion with nutrition information?

The survey said that despite their best intentions, the people we’re closest to might actually be leading us astray. Consumers paradoxically rely heavily on information from individuals—family and friends—for whom there is little trust.

About three-quarters of consumers (77%) say they rely on friends and family at least a little for both nutrition and food safety information, which tops other sources including health professionals, news, and the internet.

But only 29% actually have high trust in family or friends as information sources, far behind sources such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, other health or fitness professionals, and health-related websites.

Meanwhile, six in 10 consumers (59%) rated family and friends as the top influencer on decisions about their eating patterns or diets. Personal healthcare professionals were cited by 55% of consumers, while all other sources rated only in the single digits.

The Food and Health Survey also suggests that consumers might be paying too much or making flawed decisions about nutrition because of non-health factors—or mental shortcuts—that drastically alter our perception of what is healthful.

These factors include the form of the food (fresh, frozen, canned), place of purchase (e.g., convenience store vs. natural food store), the length of the ingredient list, and price, among others —and they drive perceptions of healthfulness even between two foods with identical nutrition information.

The investigation results are derived from an online survey of 1,002 Americans ages 18 – 80, conducted March 10 to March 29, 2017.

About Hernando Ramírez-Santos

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Editorial and Social Media Coordinator, Abasto Magazine. Accomplished and innovative leader and journalist with over 30 years of experience in print, digital, radio and television.

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