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

NEW YORK, N.Y. – April 27, 2011 – 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.

 

TABLE 1

IMPORTANT WHEN MAKING FOOD AND BEVERAGE PURCHASES

When thinking about all of your food and beverage purchases, how important are each of the following to you?

Base: All adults

Important (NET)

Very important

Somewhat important

Not important (NET)

Not very important

Not at all important

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Fresh

89

60

29

7

4

3

4

Fiber

81

45

37

15

9

6

3

Whole grain

81

47

35

16

9

7

3

Fat content

80

46

34

17

11

6

2

Portion size

79

37

42

18

12

7

3

Calories

77

40

37

20

14

6

3

Saturated fat

76

46

30

21

12

9

3

Sugar

72

34

38

25

16

9

2

Dairy

72

35

37

25

14

11

3

Sodium or salt

71

37

34

26

18

8

2

Carbohydrates

71

29

42

27

18

8

3

Preservatives

67

28

38

30

20

10

3

High fructose corn syrup

60

31

30

35

21

14

5

Artificial sugar

59

31

28

37

20

17

4

Packaged food

58

18

40

38

25

13

4

Frozen

52

16

36

44

30

14

4

Gluten

33

10

23

60

29

31

7

Vegan

20

6

14

73

21

51

7

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.


TABLE 2

IMPORTANT WHEN MANAGING DIET AND/OR WEIGHT

When thinking about how you manage your diet and/or weight, how important are each of the following to you?

Base: All adults

Important (NET)

Very important

Somewhat important

Not important (NET)

Not very important

Not at all important

%

%

%

%

%

%

Protein

83

39

44

17

11

6

Fat

81

42

39

19

12

7

Whole grain

81

41

40

19

12

7

Calories

80

39

41

20

13

7

Saturated fat

79

42

37

21

14

8

Sugar

76

33

43

24

16

8

Cholesterol

75

37

38

25

17

9

Carbohydrates

74

29

46

26

17

8

Sodium

73

34

39

27

18

9

Hydrogenated oil

67

29

38

33

22

11

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 3

FOOD RESTRICTIONS

Do you or does anyone in your household monitor or restrict their intake of any of the following items?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

%

%

%

%

%

Any (NET)

57

51

50

58

76

Sodium or salt

34

19

27

39

57

Sugar

32

22

26

35

52

Carbohydrates

20

14

14

20

37

Lactose

10

7

9

12

15

Meat or meat products

10

11

6

9

16

Dairy

10

9

9

11

10

Shell-fish

8

9

8

6

11

Gluten

6

4

3

9

10

Peanuts

5

5

3

5

7

All nuts

4

4

3

3

7

Fish

4

4

4

2

6

None of these

43

49

50

42

24

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 4

IMPORTANT WHERE FOOD COMES FROM

Now we’d like to ask about where your food comes from. Thinking again about your food and beverage purchases, how important are each of the following to you?

Base: All adults

Important (NET)

Very important

Somewhat important

Not important (NET)

Not very important

Not at all important

%

%

%

%

%

%

Locally sourced produce

71

25

46

29

17

11

Environmentally friendly packaging

65

19

46

35

22

13

Animals that are fed with non-antibiotic animal feed

61

24

38

39

25

14

Wild-caught fish and seafood

56

21

35

44

24

20

Bottled water

46

16

30

54

26

28

Packaging that contains plastic

45

12

33

55

37

19

Organic

42

12

30

58

33

25

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 5

ACTION/AWARENESS GAP

Do you or does anyone in your household monitor or restrict their intake of any of the following items?

Base: Adults who rated sugar, salt, or carbohydrates as important when managing their diet/weight

Total

Generation

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

%

%

%

%

%

Sodium

47

31

38

50

67

Sugar

42

32

36

58

61

Carbohydrates

27

21

20

26

43

ction/Awareness Gap

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 7 to 14, 2011 among 2,379 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

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Q835, 840, 845, 850, 855

The Harris Poll® #52, April 27, 2011

By Mary Bouchard, Vice President and Andrew Compagno, Research Manager, Consumer Goods, Restaurant and Retail Research, Harris Interactive