Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition & Health (2006)

Full Report (PDF)


Background & Objectives
The benchmark IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey provides insights regarding specific catalysts and barriers to healthful eating. This consumer data is important to guide communication efforts with the goal of improving public health. In addition, this research will serve as a basis for valuable longitudinal information to monitor and interpret consumer attitudinal and behavior trends regarding key health issues including diet, physical activity, and weight.

Areas of Inquiry
Broadly, the IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey explores two key issues:

  • How American consumers think and feel about health, diet (including overall diet and principle nutrients such as fats, sugars, and carbohydrates), physical activity, and weight.
  • How American consumers’ knowledge and attitudes impact behavior and use of health information and tools when making food choices.

Specific areas of inquiry include:

  • Perceptions of and satisfaction with overall health
  • Perceptions of overall diet
  • Prevalence of dietary changes and drivers/influencers of change
  • Awareness, perceptions, and reported behavior regarding key nutrients
  • Perceived and actual* weight status
  • Awareness and behaviors regarding calories
  • Perceptions and frequency of physical activity levels
  • Perceptions and usage of health and nutrition information sources


This research was conducted by Cogent Research. All data for this study were collected in November 2005 via a Web-based survey consisting of 134 questions. The outgoing e-mail list for this study was constructed to be reflective of the U.S. population on key census characteristics, adjusting for populations with lower response rates. To ensure the final results were representative of the adult population in the United States, the survey data were weighted against the latest U.S. Census projections on a few key attributes. The data presented in this report reflect these weighted data. A comparison of key demographic variables to those of the U.S. population can be found in the Appendix of this report.

The findings presented here rely primarily on univariate analyses and cross-tabulations. All questions were cross-tabulated by a set of key variables, including primary demographic characteristics (e.g., age, income), health-based characteristics (e.g., BMI, health history), and attitudinal characteristics (e.g., satisfaction with health status).

A sample of 1,000 interviews is subject to a sampling error of + 3.1 percentage points (at the 95 percent confidence level).

Web survey 
Representative sample of Americans aged 18+*
November 7-20, 2005 
n=1,000  (+ 3.1 pp)
Data weighted to the U.S. census by age, education, and gender

*U.S. census and survey data comparisons included in the Appendix.
**Weighting is a widely accepted statistical technique that is used to ensure that the distribution of the sample reflects that of the population on key demographics. With any data collection method, even when the outgoing sample is balanced to the census, some populations are more likely than others to respond.


Three quarters of consumers describe their health status as “good” to “excellent.” However, only slightly more than half describe themselves as being satisfied (“somewhat” or “extremely”) with their health status.

Desire for Change. While nearly all consumers believe that weight, diet, and physical activity influence health, many consumers say they are not performing well in those areas. Specifically:

  • Diet. Only half describe their diet as “healthful,” and even fewer (one in six) say they eat five or more fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Physical activity. One-third say they are not physically active for health benefits, and a similar number describe themselves as “sedentary.”
  • Weight. Two-thirds are concerned with their weight, and a similar number describe themselves as “overweight” or “extremely overweight or obese.”

Efforts to Change. In an effort to improve their health, more than half of consumers say they are making dietary changes. The most common dietary changes include consuming less of specific types of foods, attempting to manage portions, and reducing caloric intake. Two-thirds of consumers are trying to increase consumption of fiber and whole grains.

Barriers to Change. Potentially hindering consumers’ success in improving their health is a lack of understanding of calories and current weight status, as well as purchase priorities and perceptions that health information is inconsistent.

  • Calories. Nine out of ten consumers are unable to provide an accurate estimate of their recommended daily caloric intake, nearly half would not even guess, and only one in three understands that a “calorie is a calorie.”
  • Weight. Three-fourths of consumers classified as obese describe themselves as only “overweight” (classification is based on Body Mass Index calculated from self-reported height and weight).
  • Purchase Priorities. Taste and price win out over healthfulness as top factors influencing food and beverage purchase decisions.
  • Consistent Information. Only one-third of consumers believe the health information they receive is consistent.

Additional barriers to change include consumers’ confusion regarding the healthfulness of dietary fats and sugars.

Dietary Fats:

  • Although two-thirds of consumers are concerned about consumption of fats or fatty acids, between one-third to one-half of consumers perceive them to be neither healthful nor unhealthful.
  • Close to four in ten consumers aware of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats consider them to be unhealthful despite dietary guidance to consume more.
  • Nearly half of all consumers indicate they are neither trying to consume more nor less of most dietary fats.

Carbohydrates and Sugars:

  • One in five consumers believe the calories contained in carbohydrates (as opposed to calories in and of themselves) are most likely to cause weight gain.
  • With the exception of fiber, whole grains, and sugar, the majority of consumers are not trying to change their consumption of carbohydrates and sugars.

Opportunities for Change. Consumers are using information sources and packaging to help them make food-related decisions.

  • Nearly nine in ten consumers say they have heard or read something about MyPyramid. Of those who have heard “a lot” or a “fair amount” about MyPyramid, two in ten say they have customized a diet for themselves on the MyPyramid Web site.
  • Food packages are also consulted when consumers are deciding to purchase or consume foods and beverages, particularly when purchasing a product for the first time. Nine out of ten consumers use at least one element on the package. They most often report consulting the packaging for expiration dates, the Nutrition Facts Panel, and ingredients.
  • Of those who have ever used the Nutrition Facts Panel, a majority of consumers report it is easy to use.
  • A greater number of consumers use the amount per serving than the Percent Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts Panel.