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 foods 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.
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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 which nearly half of all Americans cite as influential include the food label (48 percent), health associations (48 percent), and friends and family (47 percent).