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Americans seek a healthy diet and women lead the pack

by Laura Schocker
Nov 04, 2008


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The percentage of people who actively seek information about nutrition and healthy eating has increased dramatically since 2000, according to a new survey from the American Dietetic Association, based in Chicago.

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Laura Schocker/MEDILL

More people report that they know about foods they shouldn't eat compared to 2002.
Still, most people don't intend to give up foods they like.

More Americans are on a mission to maintain a healthy diet than ever before, according to the American Dietetic Association’s 2008 public opinion survey.  

The association launched the consumer nutrition trends survey in 1991, with six follow-up surveys released since. "Nutrition and You: Trends 2008" is the first survey released since 2002 and documented a better-informed public more aware of the health effects of too much fat, salt and sugar.

However, 73 percent of survey respondents flatly stated they don't want to give up foods they like. And they don't have to, said registered dietician Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo. Moderation is the key.

“(The survey) can give us some good insight into what consumers are thinking about diet, nutrition and physical activity and what they’re doing about it in their lives,” said Moloo, an spokesperson for the Chicago-based association.

The survey separates people into three groups representing attitudes about healthy diet and regular exercise. This year, 43 percent of people fell into the “Already doing it" category, 38 percent in the guilt-ridden “I know I should” group and 19 percent in the apathetic “Don’t bother me” group.

“We’re seeing more and more people in the top two categories” compared to the 2002 findings, Moloo said. “People are paying more attention to diet, nutrition and physical activity.”

Women were almost 20 percent likelier to be concerned about diet and nutrition than men, with a 73 percent rate of concern for women compared to 55 percent for ment. But they were only 4 percent likelier to be more concerned about exercise. A college education added to the degree of concern expressed by both sexes.

The survey also asked participants why they don’t do more to achieve a balanced diet and 79 percent responded simply that they are satisfied with their current diets.

Participants also ranked how much they had heard about the health effects of certain foods, good and bad. The survey showed people are most aware of the benefits of low-fat, trans-fat, low-sugar, low-carb and low-sodium foods.

Fifty-four percent of people said that based on the information they’ve learned, they realize they should eliminate some foods entirely, up more than 10 percent from the 2002 result.

“Really all foods can fit into a healthy diet,” Moloo said. “The message here is portion size and frequency.”

The next survey -- not yet scheduled -- may reinforce the trend toward better informed consumers. Forty percent of those surveyed said they “actively seek information about nutrition and healthy eating,” up from 36 percent in 2002 and 19 percent in 2000.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in people seeking information about nutrition and healthy eating,” Moloo said.

Almost two-thirds of those polled indicated television is their likeliest source of food and nutrition information, while 45 percent answered magazines and 24 percent credited the Internet.

But accessibility doesn’t always mean reliability. The survey found that more than three-fourths of respondents found registered dietitians were a “very credible” source for nutrition information. They scored televison with only a 14 percent credbility rating, magazines with 25 percent and the Internet with 22 percent.

“You grapple with what’s the most convenient source of information,” said Dawn Jackson Blatner, an association spokesperson in Chicago and a registered dietitian. She explained the survey shows that consumers are savvy about the reliability of nutrition information.

“There are a million places to get information,” Blatner said.

The good news, though, Blatner said, is that more and more people are making the effort to become informed, according to the survey.

“The number of people who think nutrition is important to them is very high,” Blatner said. “When somebody feels that nutrition is important to them, they’re going to seek out information.”