a. We all look to Food to Improve Health, but Struggle to Get Functional Foods on our Plates

 

 

Issue September 2011

Final Functional Foods Backgrounder

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Food is an essential part of our lives and consumer interest in foods that provide health and a wellness benefit beyond basic nutrition, or functional foods, is thriving.  From whole grains for heart health, to calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and to probiotics for digestive health, a majority of Americans believe that foods have specific health benefits and remain interested in learning more.  However, there are multiple barriers consumers face when trying to include these foods in their diets.

In 2011, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) commissioned its seventh survey studying Americans’ awareness of and attitudes toward functional foods.  While all foods are functional because they provide nutrients or other substances that promote growth or furnish energy, functional foods move beyond necessity to provide additional health benefits that may reduce risk of disease or promote optimal health. These foods can include the naturally healthful components in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber in certain breads and cereals, calcium in milk, and fortified foods and beverages such as vitamin D fortified milk.  Functional foods can also include dietary supplements.

This quantitative survey has been conducted every two to three years since 1998. The 2011 survey was conducted with 1,000 U.S. adults 18 years and older. Respondents were invited to participate based on gender, education, age, and ethnicity to allow the findings to be representative of the American population, and the final data set was weighted by level of education. This year’s findings continue to provide consumer insights into their interests and perceptions about the roles of foods and beverages in promoting health and wellness.  Similar to previous surveys, the latest round of research was designed to measure and track changes in consumer awareness and interest in functional foods, and to explore how awareness levels of food and health-benefit pairings impact behavior and perceptions.  A new objective for the 2011 survey was to measure consumers’ perceived barriers to consuming functional foods.
Americans Attitudes toward Health

Overall, the majority of U.S. consumers are confident that they have control over their health, and they cite cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke, as their top health concern (46 percent). This is followed closely by weight (32 percent) and cancer (22 percent). When it comes to factors that can impact health such as exercise, food and nutrition and family health history, Americans believe that food and nutrition play the greatest role in promoting health.

Consumer Understanding of Functional Foods

The vast majority of Americans (87 percent) continue to agree with the over-arching concept of functional foods: that there are certain foods and beverages that can provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. When consumers were asked unprompted to name a food and its associated benefit, 90 percent of Americans are able to do so. While this number has remained relatively stable over the past few iterations of the survey, it represents a significant increase from 1998 when only 77 percent of Americans were able to name a food and its associated benefit. Of note, Americans continue to name foods or groups of foods (for example, fruits and vegetables or fish) and their benefits, rather than specific food components such as antioxidants or omega-3 fatty acids. The top ten functional foods named by consumers include: fruits and vegetables; fish and fish oil; dairy, including milk and yogurt; herbs and spices; whole grains; fiber; meat and poultry; tea; nuts; and vitamins and minerals.

Consumer attitudes remain positive regarding foods and beverages with added health and wellness benefits with between 66 to 82 percent of Americans either “somewhat” or “strongly” believing in a stated benefit. The following are some of the top benefits Americans believe foods and beverages can provide: contribution to healthy growth and development in children (82 percent), improved bone health (81 percent), maintenance of overall health and wellness (80 percent), improved immune system function (79 percent), contribution to a healthy body weight (79 percent), and improved heart health (79 percent).

Awareness of Specific Diet and Health Relationships

Questions were asked in this section related to 35 different diet and health relationships to determine consumers’ awareness of specific foods components that may provide health benefits and consumer behavior regarding consumption. The top food components with health benefits selected by consumers in the survey include calcium (92 percent) and vitamin D (90 percent) for bone health, protein (87 percent) and B vitamins (86 percent) for overall well-being, omega-3 fatty acids (85%) for heart health, and probiotics (81 percent) and fiber (79 percent) for digestive health. More detailed findings related to consumption of food components for various health benefits can be found be found below

Challenges to Getting Functional Foods on the Plate

While consumers are very positive toward functional foods, over the past few iterations of the survey there have been no significant increases in reported consumption of various functional components for health benefits. In order to understand why consumption has not increased, we measured consumers’ perceived barriers to adding more functional foods to their diet. When asked about specific barriers, consumers most commonly perceive expense and taste as their biggest hurdles. Consumers also stress that availability of these foods and convenience in finding them affect frequency of consumption. 

Although consumers face barriers, their beliefs about functional foods can positively influence future consumption. Specifically, consumers are most likely to agree that consumption of functional foods can make a meaningful impact on their health, and that the added benefits in these foods provide a compelling reason to consume them more often. Not surprisingly, Americans are looking to trusted health professionals and physicians for advice about what foods may provide benefits.

Filling the Plate with Functional Foods

Americans do believe that they have control over their health and they are interested in learning more about functional foods. People are getting information about foods that can promote health from a variety of sources, yet medical professionals, including registered dietitians, remain some of the most influential resources that could compel someone to try a functional food. Whether whole grains for heart health, calcium and vitamin D for bone health or protein for weight management, Americans are interested in functional foods and are looking for science-based and practical advice that addresses the common barriers preventing them from consuming these foods more often. Our ultimate challenge is to find easy ways to help consumers sustain healthful lifestyles overtime. Nutrition communicators can use the findings to develop messages that can bridge the gap between consumers’ interest and desire to improve their health and understanding the necessary changes in diet and lifestyle and how to implement them. However, one thing is clear: we will not be successful filling consumers’ plates with functional foods if we cannot find ways to connect taste and convenience with sensible food choices.

2011 Functional Foods/Foods For Health Consumer Trending Survey

The 2011 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, is the seventh, nationally representative, quantitative study designed to gain insights from consumers on their knowledge and attitudes toward foo

ds that can promote health, or functional foods. The primary objectives of this study are to:

•    Measure and track changes in consumer awareness of and interest in functional foods over time

•    Explore how awareness levels and maturity of food and health benefit pairs impact behavior and perceptions

•    A new objective for the 2011 research was to measure consumers’ perceived barriers to consuming functional foods. This objective was added in 2011 to gain a deeper understanding about why in many areas knowledge has increased but consumption remains stable. 
 
“Functional foods” can be defined as foods and food components that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition.   Functional foods include a wide variety of foods and food components believed to improve overall health and well-being, reduce the risk of specific diseases, or minimize the effects of other health concerns. These foods include, for example, the naturally healthful components in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber in certain breads and cereals, calcium in milk, and fortified foods and beverages such as vitamin D fortified milk.  Functional foods, in its broadest definition, can also include dietary supplements 
A majority of Americans believe they have some control over their health and that food and nutrition play the most important role in maintaining and improving their overall health.  Additionally, most consumers agree with the concept of “functional foods:” that certain foods have health benefits beyond basic nutrition.  Consumers identify heart health and weight control as their top health concerns, followed by healthy aging, cancer, diabetes, nutrition, and exercise, among others. 

Since these studies were first initiated in 1998, there has been a significant increase in consumer awareness of foods and beverages that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, and consumers continue to be interested in learning more about these beneficial foods.  In fact, a majority of Americans are interested in foods and beverages that can provide a host of health benefits, from maintaining overall health and wellness to improving heart, bone and digestive health, or contributing to a healthy body weight. 

 Consumers are most aware of food/health benefit associations related to their top two health concerns of cardiovascular disease and weight maintenance.  Additionally, they recognize well-established associations, such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health.  Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in awareness of several food/health benefit associations.  However, despite increases in awareness, the number of Americans actually consuming these foods for their associated health benefits has generally not changed since consumption data was first recorded in 2005.

This latest study further explored barriers which might prevent Americans from consuming foods with health benefits and found that price and taste are the most important factors affecting their decisions to consume these foods.  Other barriers include availability of these foods, convenience in finding them, knowledge of which foods provide benefits, and uncertainty of how to prepare them, among others.

 These findings are

similar to those of the International Food Information Council Foundation 2011 Food & Health Survey, a trending survey which explores consumer attitudes toward food, nutrition, food safety, and health.  This survey found that while taste is the top consideration that impacts their decision of which foods and beverages to purchase, price, healthfulness, convenience, and sustainability also play roles.  No other influencing factor has risen at the same rate as price over the past five years.

 Consumers look to a number of sources to help them make decisions around foods and beverages.  Medical professionals, including physicians and dietitians, are cited as the most believable providers of information about the benefits of food or food components.  Medical professionals are also regarded by consumers as the most influential sources in terms of motivating consumers to incorporate healthful foods and food components in their diet.  Consumers also turn to media sources for information.  However, compared to 2009 consumers are much less likely to turn to media sources for credible information. Other sources that nearly half of all Americans cite as influential include the food label (48 percent), health associations (48 percent), and friends and family (47 percent).

By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date: 8/22/11

Perhaps this is a question that you ask yourself every afternoon before deciding what to eat for lunch, or maybe taste always wins the day and health is just an afterthought or maybe the change in your pocket will determine how fancy the next meal will be? In his book, 101 Foods That Could Save Your LifeDave Grotto, RD has a formula for good health: Taste + Do-ability = Sustainability. In other words, in order to sustain a lifestyle that includes a healthful diet, you have to enjoy the food that you eat and know how to make healthful eating a reality in your busy hectic stress-filled life. I’ve seen Dave present his formula more recently and he’s added two more factors to the equation: familiarity and cost.

New research on Functional Foods/Foods for Health sheds light on why familiarity and cost are also important components to good health. Functional Foods include foods and beverages that are believed to provide benefits beyond basic nutrition. These can include, for example, the naturally healthful components in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber in certain breads and cereals, calcium in milk, and fortified foods and beverages such as vitamin D fortified milk.  Functional foods can also include dietary supplements.

According to our survey, the top barriers preventing people from including more functional foods into their diet are belief that these foods are more expensive and that they don’t taste good. Speaking to issues related to familiarity, consumers also stressed that availability of these foods and convenience in finding them can prevent them from consuming functional foods more often. Despite the challenges that consumers face when trying to add more foods with health benefits to their plate, the majority of Americans are interested in learning more about these foods.

Fitting in Functional Foods

Whether whole grains for heart health, protein for weight management or B vitamins to improve overall health and wellbeing, people do believe that functional foods can make a meaningful impact on their health when they consume them and that the benefits of functional foods provide a compelling reason to consume them more often.

To fit functional foods into your diet, it’s helpful to identify why are you interested in consuming functional foods. Whether its weight management, digestive health or a desire to improve your overall health and well-being, understanding what is motivating you to include more functional foods in your diet can help direct your efforts, saving you time and money. The attached newly updated backgrounder on Functional Foods  can help get you started on your path to good health. It provides a chart of foods that can promote health, examples of foods that contain healthful food components, their potential health benefit and tips for how to include more functional foods into your diet. Use this document to become familiar with all of the benefits that foods can provide and experiment each week with a new functional component. You might even be surprised to learn that some of the foods that you currently consume are on this list. Use these positive first steps to reinforce other changes and don’t be afraid to try something new. After all, it is easier to change your diet by taking small steps rather than giant leaps.

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