2009 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition and Health

2009 Food & Health Results Web Cast Series

The fourth and final in a series of Web casts was held on Friday, November 20. Reversing Mindless Eating over the Holidays: A Look at Consumer Weight Management Behaviors focused on the weight managment finding from the 1009 Food & Health Survey and featured special guest Dr. Brian Wansink of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating discussed his award-winning academic research on food psychology and behavior change. Download a PDF of the slides used in the Web cast.

On Monday, August 31, International Food Information Council Foundation presented A Focus on Food Safety the third of a series of Web casts based on the findings from the 2009 Food & Health Survey. This edition focused on consumer food safety practices in the home, including consumer perception of food safety risks; food safety/foodborne risks to public health; and practical safe food handling tips that consumers can incorporate in their daily lives. Download a PDF of the slides used in the Web cast.

On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, the International Food Information Council Foundation presented the second of a series of Web casts based on the findings from the 2009 Food & Health Survey that focused on consumers’ views of the food label; news related to food and health; dietary guidance, including MyPyramid; and other food information resources. Download a PDF of the slides used in the presentation.

The first in the series of Food and Health Survey Web casts was held on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. This Web cast debuted highlights from the fourth annual International Food Information Council Foundation Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition & Health. Download a PDF of the slides used in the presentation.


The 2009 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition, & Health, conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation, is the fourth annual, nationally representative, quantitative study designed to gain insights from consumers on various food safety, nutrition, and health-related topics. The research provides the opportunity to understand how consumers perceive their own diets, their efforts to improve them, their understanding of the food components in their diets, and safe food preparation.

In order to develop effective nutrition and food safety communications that would help consumers implement behavioral changes, health professionals, educators, and others need to understand not only what issues are most important to consumers, but also the environment in which those messages are received.

Many things have happened since the 2008 survey that impacted consumers and how they view the world. For example, the economy has been at the forefront of the American psyche. That coupled with a political shift in government and the historic election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, provide a unique lens through which consumers view the world today.

Many Americans are worried about putting food on the table for their families as millions have lost their jobs. Additionally, consumers are being bombarded with news about changing dietary guidance, food safety crises, and seemingly ever-changing food information. All of this undoubtedly affects the way consumers view issues pertaining to food, nutrition, and food safety, as well as other aspects of their daily lives.

The following is a summary of key findings from the 2009 Food and Health Survey with comparisons to select results from the previous editions.

Overall Health Americans’ perception of their health status remains positive with 37 percent indicating their health is “excellent” or “very good” and 44 percent describing their health as “good.” With no real change since 2007, Americans’ degree of satisfaction with their health status remains relatively high with 58 percent indicating they are “extremely satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”

Weight Americans’ concern with their weight appears to have decreased significantly from previous years, which could be a reflection of the current environment. Seventy percent now say they are concerned with their weight compared to 75 percent in 2008. In addition, roughly half, or 53 percent of Americans, continue to say they are actively “trying to lose weight.” However, among those who are making dietary changes, fewer consumers are now citing “to lose weight” as the reason they do so compared to 2008 (61 percent in 2009 vs. 69 percent in 2008).

Diet and Physical Activity Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) report making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet. The specific types of dietary changes most often reported are “changing the types of food and/or food components I eat” (79 percent) and “changing the amount of food I eat” (69 percent). In addition, 80 percent of Americans noted that “exercise/physical activity” was one of the top three things that people can do to maintain good health.

Meal Occasions Similar to the previous surveys, 93 percent of Americans consider breakfast an important meal for an overall healthful diet, followed by dinner (87 percent) and lunch (81 percent); however, slightly more than half of consumers (56 percent) still report not eating breakfast seven days per week. Snacks are also part of most Americans’ day, with nearly all Americans (94 percent) consuming at least one snack per day.

Dietary Fats Sixty-seven percent of Americans are concerned with the amount of fat they consume, and 69 percent say they are concerned with the type of fat they consume. Consumers continue to pay particular attention to trans fat. Awareness of trans fat remains high at 90 percent. Fifty-seven percent of Americans who say they look at the Nutrition Facts panel, say they use trans fat information on it and of those who are aware of trans fat, 64 percent say they are trying to reduce trans fat in their diet. Consumers’ understanding of healthful fats, such as unsaturated fats, still appears to be lacking.

Carbohydrates and Sugars This year, small but significant decreases were observed in consumers’ awareness of various carbohydrates compared to 2008. Despite the slight decrease, awareness of fiber (87 percent in 2009 vs. 92 percent in 2008) and whole grains (83 percent in 2009 vs. 87 percent in 2008) remain high. And while two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) believe that moderate amounts of sugar can be part of an overall healthful diet, only 17 percent agree with the statement that “all types of sugars affect health in the same way.”

Foods and Beverages with Added Health and Wellness Benefits This year, consumers were asked to rank the top three components they look for when choosing foods and beverages for themselves and their children. For those who are looking for themselves, the top three components are fiber (37 percent), whole grains (34 percent), and protein (28 percent). For those looking for their children, the top three components are calcium (39 percent), vitamin C (31 percent), and whole grains (26 percent).

Low-Calorie Sweeteners Awareness of a few low-calorie sweeteners has decreased over previous years, including saccharin (68 percent), aspartame (57 percent), and acesulfame potassium, or ace-K (four percent). Awareness of sugar alcohols (32 percent) and sucralose (31 percent) remains consistent. However, awareness of stevia (21 percent) has increased. In addition, more than one-third of Americans (34 percent) agree that low-calorie sweeteners can play a role in weight loss or weight management.

Caffeine When asked to describe their level of caffeine consumption, 66 percent of Americans say they “consume caffeine in moderation.” Eighteen percent describe themselves as consuming “more caffeine than the average person,” and 16 percent say they have “eliminated caffeine” from their diets.

Food Safety Confidence Roughly half (49 percent) of Americans rate themselves as being confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply, similar to the level seen in 2008 (45 percent). Questions regarding food safety, and in particular, safe food preparation at home, were added in 2008 and repeated in 2009. Almost all Americans (95 percent) say they are regularly taking at least one food safety precaution when cooking, preparing, and consuming food, such as washing hands (87 percent). The majority of Americans (68 percent) say they follow all microwave meal cooking instructions when preparing a microwaveable meal. However, a smaller percentage of consumers report following key food safety practices, such as using a different or freshly cleaned cutting board for each type of food (50 percent) and using a food thermometer to check the doneness of meat and poultry items (25 percent).

This year, for the first time, consumers were asked who they believe is responsible for food safety in the U.S. Seventy three percent of Americans believe that food manufacturers are responsible for food safety followed by the government (72 percent), farmers/producers (57 percent), retailers/food service (49 percent), and consumers/individuals (41 percent).

Consumer Use of Information Sources and Purchasing Decisions In addition to their use of the information gathered on both the Nutrition Facts panel and the food label, consumers were asked about their awareness and use of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) MyPyramid food guidance system. While 84 percent of consumers say they are at least aware of MyPyramid, only 25 percent of Americans report having used MyPyramid in some way.

The importance of price has significantly increased since 2006, with 74 percent of consumers rating it as having an impact on their purchasing decisions in 2009 (vs. 70 percent in 2008, 72 percent in 2007, and 64 percent in 2006). It is worth noting that other factors impacting purchasing decisions including taste, convenience, and healthfulness have remained mostly stable over the course of the survey.


This research was conducted by Cogent Research of Cambridge, MA in partnership with the Foundation. All data for this study were collected from February 19 to March 11, 2009 via a Web-based survey consisting of 120 questions. The outgoing e-mail list for this study was constructed to be reflective of the U.S. population on key census characteristics, adjusting for groups with historically lower response rates. To ensure the final results were representative of the adult population in the United States, the survey data were weighted against the latest U.S. Census projections on specific key attributes. The data presented in this report reflect these weighted data.

Throughout this report, 2009 data are compared to the 2006 benchmark study (collected in November 2005) and the 2007 and 2008 data (collected in the same February/March time frame as 2009). The 2006 benchmark study and 2007 and 2008 studies also utilized a Web-based methodology and surveyed a representative population of the U.S. on key demographic variables. Statistically significant differences among 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 are noted in the report by up or down arrows.

The findings presented here rely primarily on univariate analyses and cross-tabulations. All questions were cross-tabulated by a set of key variables, including primary demographic characteristics (e.g., age, income), health-based characteristics (e.g., body mass index [BMI]1, health status), and attitudinal characteristics (e.g., satisfaction with health status).

A sample of 1,064 respondents is subject to a maximum sampling error of ±3.0 percentage points (at the 95 percent confidence level). Comparisons of data from 2006, 2007, and 2008 to 2009 are subject to a maximum sampling error of ±4.4 percentage points (at the 95 percent confidence level).

Web survey
Representative sample of Americans aged 18+
February 19 – March 11, 2009
n=1,064 (± 3.0 for 2009 and ± 4.4 among 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006)
Data Weighted on Age, Gender, Income, Education, and Race

*Weighting is a widely accepted statistical technique that is used to ensure that the distribution of the sample reflects that of the population on key demographics. With any data collection method, even when the outgoing sample is balanced to the U.S. Census, some populations are more likely than others to respond.

1 BMI was calculated from self-reported weight and height and was categorized according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standards.