March 2011 - The infamous statement, Well I had good intentions to eat healthy, but that didn’t last long,’ begs the question, “Why not”?  Most consumers are generally aware of what makes up nutritious meals, but end up choosing unhealthy options instead. With regard to our diets, it is no surprise there is a disconnect between what we know we should be doing and what we actually do.1

 

Research from the 2009 International Food Information Council (IFIC) ``Consumer Trending Survey`` reported 72% of American consumers (n=1,005) believed that food and nutrition played a great role in improving overall health. Yet, people are overwhelmingly eating sub-optimal diets.2 About 83% were aware that whole grains could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease; yet, only 50% reported consuming whole grains.

 

Guthrie has proposed that, in theory, individuals will follow traditional behavior economics; that is, when given information on nutrition, they will act accordingly and choose what is best for them. The theory of behavioral economics uses social, cognitive and emotional factors in understanding the economic decisions of individuals, with regard to choice. Typically, this theory integrates psychology models. Behavior economics is one of the many sciences employed to understand how consumers will react to certain foods3.

A challenge to eating healthy and following dietary guidelines is that consumers are often more interested in the sensory properties of foods than their beneficial aspects4. Often, the short-term enjoyment of food supersedes that of long-term nutrition and health-related goals.1 Further,the environment within which food is presented stimulates the propensity to choose foods with sensory, rather than health appeal. Urala and Lähtennmäki have noted the success of a healthy food will depend on whether it responds to consumer needs and on the degree of satisfaction that it is able to provide5.

Dietary interventions attempt to focus on long-term goals and preventing “sensory” distractions.  Guthrie provides examples as to preparations which include packing a healthy lunch instead of purchasing it, planning meals for the week, and shopping with a grocery list to avoid last-minute purchasing temptations.1

When it comes to top-of-mind reasons to eat healthy, most people will cite avoidance of disease as an important motivation. In fact, in the IFIC survey, 48% of Americans stated cardiovascular health was their top health concern2. This is not surprising, since cardiovascular disease remains the leading health issue worldwide, with an estimated 7.2 million individuals dying from the disease every year.6

As reviewed by Costell and co-workers7, consumer responses to healthy foods depends on the interaction of several factors which can influence consumer choice at the moment of purchase. It is very important to recognize that the influence of nutritional information on the acceptance of healthy foods is impacted by the sensory quality of products. Numerous behavioral and attitudinal methods can be used to assess the impact of sensory qualities, as well as the attitudes, opinions and expectations that consumers have, in order to predict purchasing responses to a healthy food. NS

References:

1 Guthrie J.  2011. Why’d I eat that? How behavioural economics can help us understand food choice. Bridging the gap between consumer behaviour and heart health webinar. Slides retrieved March 11, 2011: http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Hot_Topic_Bridging_the_Gap_Between_Consumer_Behavior_and_Heart_Health.

2 International Food Information Council. 2009. 2009 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey.  IFIC webinar presented by E. Rahavi. Slides retrieved March 24th 2011: http://www.ific.us/Content/6/FINAL-2009-IFIC-Functional-Foods-Presentation-for-Opinion-Leader-Webcast-for-IFIC-org.pdf.

3http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics.

4 Verbeke W. 2006. Functional foods: Consumer willingness to compromise on taste for health? Food Quality and Preference 17:126-131.

5 Urala N and Lahteenmaki L. 2004. Attitudes behind consumers' willingness to use functional foods. Food Quality and Preference 15: 793-803.

6 World Health Organization. 2008. The top 10 causes of death. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/index.html