More cash or a healthier diet?

Americans want to lose weight and eat healthier, but they also understand processed foods bring several benefits, according to “What’s Your Health Worth?” the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 10th anniversary food and health survey released May 12. In another survey finding, Americans may not be as healthy as they think they are.

This year’s survey focused on trade-offs Americans make regarding health and nutrition.

If they were given an additional $100 a month, people were asked to choose three ways they would spend the money. Sixty-one per cent said they would save, invest or pay off debts, while 28% would pay for household expenses or home repairs, 23% would spend more on travel, 17% would shop for anything other than groceries, 13% would spend more on entertainment, 13% would spend more on groceries, 10% would spend more to dine out, and 9% would spend the money on a gym membership or athletic activities.

People in households earning $35,000 to $47,000 per year were more likely, at 18%, to spend more on groceries if given an additional $100 a month than people in households earning less than $35,000, at 16%, and people in households earning more than $75,0000, at 7%. People in households earning less than $35,000 a year were more likely, at 12%, to spend more on dining out if given an additional $100 a month than people in households earning $35,000 to $47,000 per year, at 10%, and people in households earning more than $75,000 per year, at 9%.

The survey again this year asked consumers if they would rather lose $1,000 or gain 20 lbs. This year 56% said they would rather lose the money, which was the same percentage as last year. Women, at 61%, were more likely than men, at 50%, to say they would rather lose $1,000. People of the ages 65 to 80, at 63%, were more likely than those 50 to 64, at 60%, 35 to 49, at 57%, and 18 to 34, at 48%, to say they would rather lose $1,000.

The survey asked people the four most important ways they would be impacted if processed foods were removed from the food supply. The top three answers were higher cost of food (51%), less convenient (45%) and improved health/nutrition (43%). Older people and college graduates were more likely to select “less convenient.” Younger people and people with higher incomes were more likely to select “improved health/nutrition.” Lower-income Americans were most concerned about cost impacts if processed foods were removed from the food supply.

Are we really that healthy?

The survey found 57% of Americans rate their health as either “very good” or “excellent.” Within that 57% group, however, 55% are either overweight or obese.

“What I fear is that we’ve reset the bar, in that some people actually don’t know what feeling good is like, but they think they feel pretty good,” said Jim Hill, Ph.D., executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. “So we’ve almost lowered the bar in defining what good health is.”

A majority of the consumers (84%) in the survey said they were trying to either maintain or lose weight. Consumers said they are choosing more healthy food options as the survey found 82% are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, 76% are cutting calories by drinking more water or low-calorie and no-calorie beverages, 70% are eating more foods with whole grain, 69% are cutting back on foods that are higher in added sugars, and 68% are consuming smaller portions.

This year’s survey covered sustainability and food safety, too. Chemicals in food were a top food safety concern for 36% of consumers, followed by 34% that were concerned about foodborne illness from bacteria. The percentage of consumers having confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply fell to 60%, down from 66% in 2014 and 70% in the 2013 survey.

Higher-income consumers are more likely to buy foods based on their production or source, which would include factors such as locally sourced, no added hormones or steroids, and organic, according to the survey.

Greenwald & Associates conducted the 2015 survey, which took place on-line from March 13-26 and covered 1,007 Americans of the ages 18 to 80. For more information, visit www.foodinsight.org.