2009 Functional Foods/Foods For Health Consumer Trending Survey Executive Summary

2009 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Web Cast

On Wednesday, August 12, 2009, the International Food Information Council presented a Web cast to release the findings from the 2009 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey. This research study was designed to measure and track changes in consumer awareness, interested, and actions toward foods and beverages that provide health benefits. Download a PDF of the Slides used in the presentation.

2009 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending SurveyEXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The 2009 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council, is the sixth, nationally representative, quantitative study designed to gauge Americans’ awareness of and attitudes toward “functional foods” or foods and beverages 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. For example, these can include the inherently healthful components in fruits and vegetables; whole grains and fiber in certain breads and cereals and calcium in milk; fortified foods and beverages, such as vitamin D fortified milk; and, in its broadest definition, functional foods can also include dietary supplements.

This survey has been conducted every two to three years since 1998, and provides ongoing consumer insights into their interests in and perceptions about foods and beverages and their roles in promoting health and wellness. The research was designed to:

  • Measure and track changes in consumer awareness of and interest in functional foods over time;
  • Explore how awareness levels of food and health-benefit pairings impact behavior and perceptions; and
  • Gauge consumer awareness of and attitudes toward using individual genetic information to make personalized nutrition and diet-related recommendations.

The following is a summary of key findings from the 2009 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey.

General Attitudes Toward Health The vast majority of Americans believe that they have some control over their health, with food and nutrition identified as playing the greatest role in improving or maintaining health, followed by exercise and then family health history. Heart disease, weight, and cancer continue to be the top health concerns of Americans, while diabetes, nutrition, and exercise follow.

Awareness of and Interest In Foods and Food Components That Provide Benefits Beyond Basic Nutrition Significantly more Americans agree that certain foods have benefits beyond basic nutrition and may reduce the risk of disease or other health concerns than just two years ago. Since this research was first conducted in 1998, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of consumers who can name a food and/or food component that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, and consumers continue to be very interested in learning more about these foods. The majority of Americans are aware of foods and beverages that can provide a host of benefits, from maintaining overall health and wellness to improving heart, bone and digestive health, or contributing to a healthy body weight, among other benefits. Many Americans report consuming certain foods and food components for these and other health benefits, while even more report they are interested in doing so.

Top “Functional Foods” Named by Consumers The top "functional foods" named by consumers include fruits and vegetables, fish/fish oil/seafood, dairy (including milk and yogurt), meat and poultry, herbs/spices, fiber, tea and green tea, nuts, whole grains and other grains, water, cereal, oats/oat bran/oatmeal, and vitamins/supplements. As in previous surveys, consumers are able to identify foods that fall into a wide spectrum of categories such as “dairy,” “fruits,” or “vitamin /supplements.” Consumers more readily mention certain foods or food categories that contain healthful components rather than the specific food components. For example, consumers may identify fruits and vegetables as having health benefits, but they may not be able to articulate the specific antioxidants, vitamins, or minerals as the healthful components they contain.

Awareness and Consumption of Certain Food Component/Benefit Pairs When all the dots are connected and consumers are provided with three key pieces of information, including a beneficial food component, corresponding food sources, and associated health benefit, there was a significant increase in consumer awareness from 2007 for the majority of the 27 food and health pairs asked about in the survey. Consumers are most aware of food/health benefit associations related to their greatest health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease, weight maintenance, and cancer, as well as those that have been well-established and promoted over time, such as calcium for bone health or fiber for digestive health. Despite an increase in consumer awareness for many of the food component/health benefit associations, consumption has remained relatively stable. Increased exposure to specific foods and beverages with beneficial health components may serve to increase awareness and may result in higher consumption over time.

Food and Health Information Sources While consumers continue to get most of their information from the media, including Web-based resources, health professionals continue to be one of the most believable sources for nutrition and health information. Health professionals are also among the most influential sources in terms of motivating consumers to incorporate healthful foods and food components in their diet.

Consumer Attitudes Toward Personalized Nutrition Since 2005, significantly more Americans are open to nutrigenomics, the concept of using genetic information to provide personalized nutrition recommendations. This survey shows that Americans possess greater knowledge of this concept, and they are increasingly becoming more interested in this topic. As science continues to emerge in this area, it will be important to monitor Americans’ attitudes and favorability toward this field of science.


As America’s health care system prepares for a possible overhaul, with more focus than ever before on the importance of preventive care, Americans increasingly believe that their food and beverage choices can positively impact their health. While many look to health professionals to help guide them toward optimal health, there are a host of influencers, from journalists to nutrition communicators to educators, among others, who seek to help Americans improve their health through the food decisions they make where they eat, work, and play. It is important to consider what consumers know today about foods and beverages that promote health and learn about the actions are they are taking to make improvements to their diet. This understanding of consumer attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors can help food and health communicators tailor information so that it resonates with and motivates consumers to achieve optimal health through diet and lifestyle.


IFIC commissioned Cogent Research of Cambridge, MA, to conduct a quantitative study to measure Americans’ attitudes toward, awareness of, and interest in functional foods. Between May 11-20, 2009, 1,005 U.S. adults 18 years and older were randomly invited to participate in a 20-minute Web-based survey. Questions were either open-ended (unaided) or participants were prompted and asked to rate specific responses. Respondents were invited 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. The sample of 1,005 interviews is subject to a maximum sampling error of ± 3.1 percentage points (at the 95 percent confidence level). Comparisons of data from 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2007 to 2009 are subject to a maximum sampling error of ± 4.4 percentage points (at the 95 percent confidence level).

NOTE: When consumers were asked questions about “food,” it was defined as “everything people eat, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy, as well as beverages, herbs, spices, and dietary supplements.”