Do you ever wish you knew more about specific issues of nutrition and the food you feed your family?
What does the public think about various nutrition topics such as labels or organic foods?
How much nutrition information do we have?
Is that information accurate?
It is true that a lot of the nutrition messages most of us read in the media are not exactly accurate or thorough or particularly science-based.
Much of what we read is hearsay, testimonial in nature, and not backed by fact.
Some of this inaccurate information leads us to change what we feed our families. While some of this misinformation may not be harmful just costly, some of it could be dangerous leading to over restriction of some foods and nutrient deficiencies in some people.
Information We Can Use (and Trust)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) surveys Americans regularly to better understand consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices about various current and emerging nutrition and labeling issues.
They use this data to help them make informed regulatory, education and other decisions.
The most recent report – The Health and Diet Survey, was just released by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the FDA.
Here is a compilation of their key findings:
- 77% of consumers are reading the Nutrition Facts label always, most of the time or sometimes when buying food. Of those who reported rarely using the label, half felt they were already familiar with the product they were buying and did not need to review it.
- 79% of consumers reported reading the label on a product they were buying for the first time. They used the label to compare like products nutrient values before purchasing.
- 60% of U.S. adults reported using multi-vitamins/multi-minerals or single-ingredient vitamins or minerals and 32% reported using herbal and non-vitamin/mineral supplements in the past year.
- 83% of vitamin/mineral users looked for product information before using a product for the first time; they reported getting information mostly from product labels or traditional healthcare professionals.
- 93% of herbal users looked for product information before using a product for the first time; they reported getting information mostly from product labels, family and friends, and the Internet.
- 60% of vitamin/mineral users thought the government sets manufacturing standards of or preapproves these products before they are marketed to the public.
- Nearly all adults thought the nation eats more salt than should and those who are 51 years and older or have chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should pay special attention to their salt intake. They said packaged/processed foods and restaurant-prepared foods are the major sources of their salt intake
- Almost nine in ten adults said they used claims such as “low in sodium,” “rich in antioxidants,” “contains no added sugar,” and “no sugar added” when buying food products. Only one third of adults thought these claims accurately describe the products.
Does Knowledge Lead to Action?
Many of the survey respondents reported reading the label — but are they doing anything to make positive health changes?
The answers to questions posed by this survey show how we know what to do but aren’t actually following through with healthy actions.
68% of those surveyed responded that eating healthy foods can reduce the likelihood of having heart disease but only 9% reported that they ate a healthy diet.
With regard to the use of a food label to learn about the nutrient content of the foods people buy, those who report not using the label state that they don’t know what to look for when they read the label and that the information is too small to read.
Unfortunately, we know that the information on the label is important to help us make healthy food choices, but we haven’t invested time in our health to learn about the meaning of the label and how best to use it.
The survey also states that many consumers feel that the government regulates terms on the label, including claims about fats. What many consumers don’t know is that many claims, such as natural, have no formal meaning.
Despite the fact that 60% report taking nutritional supplements and herbal products, the supplements we buy and take freely are unregulated at this time. Most report believing that they are regulated by the government to be safe and effective. 57% believe there are set standards for vitamins and minerals and 54% believe vitamins and minerals are approved by the government before they are marketed but most don’t believe herbals have standards or are approved by the government.
87% of those surveyed strongly or somewhat agree that taking supplements will help them prevent illness and 72% strongly or somewhat agree that taking supplements will help them treat illness.
68% of those asked reported being very or somewhat concerned about their sodium intake. 65% report they are watching their sodium but 35% are not. 29% hardly or never buy low sodium products.
Many consumers report strongly or somewhat strongly that they don’t have time to read the labels.
What Can the FDA (and We) Learn from the Results?
In some ways, we have the information that we need to make healthier food choices right on the package if we choose to read it and take ownership to learn what the Nutrition Facts panel means.
The FDA could make the label easier to read for those with reduced vision. They have been working on updating the label and have decided to enlarge some of the information and add data for added sugars.
More credible and easy to understand learning tools should be made available so consumers can learn how the Nutrition Fact panel information can be used to make informed decisions about healthy foods.
The government should also regulate all supplements making health claims so that when we buy them we know they are safe, will be effective as directed and not claim to cure something they won’t.
In addition, consumers should also be told that most of these supplements on which they spend their money to prevent or treat illness will not give them the results they expect. Most people can get all the nutrients they need through a well-balanced diet.
At least some food claims should also be regulated and inspected for compliance so that consumers aren’t misled into buying food that doesn’t meet the guidelines thinking it will benefit their health. If a nutrition claim such as natural means nothing, it should be removed or defined for use.
The public shouldn’t have to wait until someone is harmed before the FDA can take action against false claims.
It’s Up to Us
As with anything, the control is in our hands. We have to decide to take action to improve our health.
Time spent caring for our own health and our families’ health is time well spent.
Learning from science what is safe and effective instead of trusting social media or untrained professionals encouraging us to buy something that benefits their pocketbook and not our own is up to each one of us.