- About 40% of U.S. adults worry they will develop serious illnesses because of an unhealthy diet, and 1 in 5 are afraid of an untimely death for the same reason, according to survey results emailed to Food Dive. The study was conducted in May by Spoon Guru, a technology startup with 2,000 U.S. consumers.
- The survey also found 74% of consumers said they've tried to improve their health during the past year, but 88% said their diet was still unhealthy. More than two-thirds of those said they eat five or more meals each week containing processed food. Half of the respondents claimed to be eating less processed food in the past year.
- About 49% of American consumers said they're eating foods with less fat, sugar and salt, but 44% of them are substituting honey or maple syrup for sugar. Spoon Guru said this indicates consumers may not know both honey and maple syrup contain high levels of sugar.
Although consumers want to be more healthy and claim to be trying to eat that way, this study found their diets have been unsuccessful. The findings show U.S. consumers want to be making healthy dietary choices, but they don't always understand how to do it.
Spoon Guru's co-founder and CEO Markus Stripf said in a release that being healthy is important for many consumers in the U.S., but there is a lack of education when it comes to which foods are healthier and why they should be eating those instead.
Are food companies to blame for the confusion? U.S. consumers seem to be trying to meet their wellness goals, but fall into a pattern of eating processed foods — whether it's from convenience and busy lifestyles or lack of awareness about healthier choices. Ultra-processed food has already been linked to risk of early death from other studies, so it makes sense for consumers to fear their diet may kill them.
In previous years, companies have tried to shift the blame for obesity away from diets, which has been somewhat successful. Mintel recently found more U.S. consumers would rather exercise than eat healthfully. Cost was a factor in those findings, with 34% telling Mintel it's pricey to eat healthy food, while just 5% said it was expensive to work out. Higher costs for healthier food can be a barrier to access that blocks consumers from meeting their health goals.
Despite the shifting attitudes toward healthier dietary choices, 46% of U.S. consumers told Spoon Guru they eat one piece of fruit daily at most, while 30% only have one vegetable per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat about two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily, but the average U.S. consumer eats far less — 0.9 cups of fruit and 1.4 cups of vegetables per day, the agency said.
Manufacturers might be able to take advantage of this survey information to emphasize how their products fit with a healthy lifestyle and might help consumers live longer when combined with other healthy habits such as regular exercise and maintaining a normal weight.
More food companies have been turning out better-for-you options, specialized diets and transparent labels as health becomes a focus for consumers. According to the 13th annual Food & Health Survey released in spring 2018 by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 36% of U.S. adults are on some type of specific diet — whether it's Whole30, paleo, gluten-free, keto or another regimen.
Some companies have made strides toward less processed foods. Food makers starting to prioritize relatively healthier eating — such as Nestlé, Conagra, Kraft Heinz and General Mills — are poised to take advantage of these trends, which may continue as consumers moving to better choices begin to feel better about their health. Once habits become ingrained, there may be fewer people worrying that their dietary choices could cause serious illnesses or even kill them.