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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Consumer Attitudes and Changing Behaviors

By Michael McBurney

Yesterday’s blog was about coaching couch potatoes off the sofa (or their office chair). Increasing physical activity is beneficial. Sedentary time is associated with increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality. Staying healthy requires more than a prescription. Health care costs will continue to rise as physicians increasingly recommend statin drugs to reduce the risk of heart disease. Even worse, new research finds statin users expend less physical effort (measured in metabolic equivalents or METS), exercise less vigorously, and exhibit more sedentary behavior than their non-medicated counterparts.

How do we encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices? One approach is to provide information to help guide consumer choices. The FDA is proposing to update the Nutrition Facts label found on food packages in the United States. What information on food packages compels consumers to make a different (healthier) food purchase?

Wong and colleagues used an online survey to assess consumer attitudes and understanding of different food products with cholesterol-lowering claims on identical mock margarine containers and ready-to-eat cereal boxes.  Product attributes (functional ingredients and nutrient content ) were kept constant as they measured consumer attitudes towards the claim, the product, and purchase intent.  Better-known functional ingredients had higher scores than lesser known entities, i.e. oat fiber vs plant sterols.

The mention of oat fiber on the package increased positive perceptions of the product, its overall healthfulness and purchase intent. Consumers preferred products with information on the quantity of oat fiber present, the amount needed for a physiologically meaningful effect, and the effect to be anticipated, e.g. cholesterol lowering or digestive health. Being familiar with a functional ingredient shaped consumer attitudes about products.

People like to be informed. People want transparency. The Nutrition Facts panel increases transparency and helps people make product comparisons within a category. People want value when they purchase.  Price per unit purchased is understood by all. When a product tastes, repurchase isn’t likely to happen. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Willpower is needed to change a lifetime of habits. Health care professional can help monitor progress and  facilitate health changes. By helping consumers understand labels and health claims on packages, doctors have an opportunity to change dietary behaviors first and prescribe drugs as a last resort.

Main Citation

Wong CL, Mendoza J, Henson SJ, Qi Y, Lou W, L’Abbe MR. Consumer attitudes and understanding of cholesterol-lowering claims on food: randomize mock-package experiments with plant sterol and oat fibre claims. 2014 EJCN doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.107

Other Citations

Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, Davies MJ, Gorely T, Gray LJ, Khunti K, Yates T, Biddle SJ. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. 2012 Diabetologia doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z

Lee DSH, Markwardt S, Goeres L, Lee CG, Eckstrom E, Williams C, Fu R, Orwoll E, Cawthon PM, Stefanick ML, Mackey D, Bauer DC, Nielson CM. Statins and physical activity in older men: The Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study. 2014 JAMA Intern Med doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.2266