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Consumer perceptions of health: we can make a difference

Consumer health

Our nation is becoming increasingly obsessed with healthy foods, dieting and exercise. But do we really know what it means to be healthy? The government has been increasing pressure on the food and drink industry to meet tougher nutritional guidelines and to be more transparent in what their products contain, as well as driving forward health education through Change4Life and other such schemes. Yet, despite these efforts, we as a nation still struggle to understand what health is and how we can achieve it.

In a recent in-house survey of over 2000 adults, we observed a great disparity between what we understand to be true, and what actually is true.

Nutritional content of food products:

According to these adults, fat content (41%), calorie content (29%), fruit and veg content (22%) and natural ingredients (20%) were the biggest markers of a healthy product for adults. For children, they thought sugar content (38%), the exclusion of artificial content (33%), salt content (29%) and natural ingredients were the clearest markers.

Nutritionally speaking, fat content and sugar content are equally important for both adults and children. There are many different types of both, and they can all have conflicting effects upon health and disease risk. In the UK, manufacturers do not have to disclose what types of sugar and fat are in their products, and so consumers are often left in the dark as to the health benefits/detriments of consuming food products. This is getting better, but we have a long way to go.

Natural products:

As you can see above, we have a desire for products to be natural and not contain any artificial ingredients. When asked whether 10 ingredients were natural or artificial (e.g. carrageenan, soya lecithin, stevia, sucralose), just 50% on average got the correct answer. However, 43% of these adults claimed to have ever looked at the packaging for additive content. We want natural products, but we don’t know what natural is.

When asked about who is responsible for promoting healthy eating, 77% said themselves, but 27% said supermarkets. When asked the same about children, schools were cited by 60%. We take the responsibility, but we need help.

I’m a qualified Nutritionist, and speaking from experience, health education really is effective. If we went beyond advising how to best position FMCG products, and began to use this knowledge of consumer perceptions of health to promote these products specifically (be it through packaging/ website/ promotions etc.), we can help to bridge the gap between consumer behaviour and ideals – to the benefit of both the consumer and the company.

We can be that link.

We can make a difference.

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