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

Healthy eating habits differ the most between the old and the young

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.

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.

SOURCE Harris Interactive

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http://www.harrisinteractive.com

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