Consumers generally want to eat better and are willing to spend more money on healthy foods like fresh and organically grown produce, but they also remain prone to reach for fast food and snacks for comfort and instant gratification, according to a new study on today's dietary trends.
While the public is given easier access to nutritional information and advice than ever, there continues to be a gap, if not a disconnect, between what people voice as their health concerns and how they actually act upon them, the researchers found.
For the study, participants were grouped in different segments based on their stated nutritional attitudes and priorities. As it turned out, even the most health-conscious among them routinely engaged in a balancing act between what they perceived as better choices and other factors like pricing or convenience.
Upon closer examination, the researchers also detected some stark discrepancies between reported and actual eating habits. Moreover, people were often not even aware of the inconsistencies in their actions.
Of course, these findings are not especially surprising. Surveys have long shown that most of us are somewhat unsure about the requirements of a truly health-promoting diet.
However, nearly half of those also admitted to having at least one sugary soft drink a day and to including pastries and other sweet and fattening items in their breakfast. Only about a third consumed the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetable servings on most days.
How people define "healthy eating" is what's questionable, says Nancy Metcalf, a senior project editor at Consumer Report magazine who was responsible for the poll. If people are misinformed or don't understand what a healthy diet entails, adherence to what they think they should be doing is getting them nowhere.
The blame for this widespread confusion over what constitutes sound nutrition does obviously not rest with the public. Because the messages people are given are often inconsistent or sometimes outright contradictory, they can do more harm than good for those trying to follow them.
For good reason the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) warns against diet programs and guidelines that promise fast and easily achievable results for weight management and nutritional well-being.
Instead of focusing on narrow measures and oversimplifying solutions, it would be more effective to foster an overall "healthy food environment" where consumers can meet their particular needs and also be confident that the information they are provided with is reliable and actionable, experts say.
This, obviously, would involve multiple components, including better health and nutrition education, greater access to healthy food outlets, and the creation of more health-promoting policies both at governmental and local levels -- to name just a few.
Ultimately, only when health-conducive behavior is commonly accepted as the norm and facilitated accordingly can real progress take place.
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