Conflicting information about food, nutrition and what products consumers may want to consider eating or avoiding is making people doubt the choices they make, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2017 Food and Health Survey. The situation shows in the survey when a majority of consumers said they seek health benefits from what they eat and drink, most notably weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy and digestive health, but almost half are unable to identify a single food or nutrient associated with the benefits.

For example, while sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil may contribute to heart health, just 12% of survey respondents made an association between them. While people are interested in getting energy benefits, less than 5% could name caffeine as providing the benefits.

“As in previous years, the Food and Health Survey has shown that Americans feel overwhelmed by conflicting food and nutrition information,” said Joseph Clayton, chief executive officer. “But this year, we’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health.

“As policymakers work to revise the Nutrition Facts Panel and define ‘healthy’ on food labels, it’s more crucial than ever before that we empower consumers with accurate information based on the best available science, in terms they can easily understand and put into action.”


Compounding the problem may be how consumers perceive what is healthy and what is unhealthy, the survey said. Consumers may associate such product formats as fresh, frozen or canned with health and nutrition. They may also associate where they purchase a product, such as a convenience store vs. a health food store, with the overall nutritional quality of a product. The survey showed that with nutritionally identical products consumers are almost five times as likely to believe a fresh product is healthier than a canned version. With regard to frozen vs. fresh, survey respondents were four times as likely to consider the fresh format healthier.

How consumers receive health and nutrition information may be adding to the confusion. Seventy-seven per cent of the survey respondents said they rely on friends and family at least a little for both nutrition and food safety information. The figure leads such other sources as health professionals, the news and web sites. Six in 10 respondents rated family and friends as their top influencer about their eating patterns and diets. Personal health care professionals were cited by 55% of consumers while other sources only rated in the single digits, according to the survey

The Food and Health Survey results were derived from an on-line survey of 1,002 Americans ages 18 – 80, conducted March 10 to March 29, 2017. Results were weighted to ensure that they are reflective of the American population, as seen in the 2016 Current Population Survey.