Consumer Attitudes on Healthy Foods

More than a third of adults in the U.S. have obesity.g In correlation with rising rates of obesity, most Americans struggle to maintain healthy diets. Despite poor dieting behaviors in the U.S. and the many reasons why they are so common, research reveals that the consumer desires to eat more healthfully, is willing to pay more for healthier foods, and pays attention to what constitutes healthy food.

A number of factors help explain why poor diets are so widespread today. Parents’ eating habits and the way parents feed their children affect the development of their children’s eating preferences.j A consumer’s level of education may also affect diet. In a study of 2 to 6-year-olds, for instance, parents with more education reported that their children ate vegetables more often.b  Another factor that may contribute to poor diets is the affordability of healthy foods as some consumers perceive healthier options as more expensive.d Research in the UK found that, while regular consumers of organic products were able to justify premium pricing, those who did not consume organic products regularly viewed higher cost as a barrier to purchasing organics.h

The positive portrayal of unhealthy foods in TV advertisements could affect a consumer’s diet. For example, a study of 5th and 6th grade students in Melbourne, Australia showed that greater TV time correlated with a more positive attitude toward and more consumption of foods high in fat and sugar.c Additionally, some consumers believe healthier choices simply do not taste as good.d 

Regardless of poor dieting behavior in the U.S. and the many factors perpetuating the problem, research shows that consumers desire to eat more healthfully and are willing to pay more for healthier foods. Consumers want foods that are minimally processed and do not have unnatural ingredientsi and attributes such as non-GMO and all natural are more important to Millennials (aged 21 to 34) than any other age group.k The NPD Group’s Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America found that Generation Z and Millennials are projected to increase their consumption of fresh and organic foods through 2019.l Additionally, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey revealed that about 40 percent of global respondents said they planned to purchase more fruit and vegetables over the next six months. While 80 percent of North Americans in Nielsen’s research were at least partly willing to pay more for healthier foods, younger generations (Generation Z and Millennials) were more willing than older age generations to pay a premium for healthier foods.k

Not only are consumers interested in eating more healthfully and willing to pay a premium for healthier foods, but they are also aware of what constitutes healthy food. A 2014 FDA telephone survey found that 77 percent of adults use the Nutrition Facts label, and most adults use claims such as “rich in antioxidants” and “contains no added sugar” when shopping for food.e Almost all adults believe that Americans consume more salt than they should and that those who have chronic illnesses or are 51 years and older should pay special attention to their salt consumption. Thus, many U.S. consumers are aware of what constitutes healthy food.

Health and diet are serious issue in the U.S., and a number of factors explain widespread poor diets. Despite high rates of obesity and poor dieting behaviors, consumers desire to eat more healthfully, are willing to pay more for healthier foods, and pay attention to what constitutes healthy food. Parenting, level of education, cost of food, advertising, and taste all play a role in shaping consumer diets, and those seeking to promote healthy foods may benefit from targeting any one of these areas in their marketing strategy.



aCasagrande, Sarah Stark, et al. “Have Americans Increased Their Fruit and Vegetable Intake? The Trends between 1988 and 2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 32.4 (2007): 257-263.

bCooke, L. J., et al. “Demographic, Familial and Trait Predictors of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by Pre-School Children.” Public Health Nutrition 7.02 (2004): 295-302.

cDixon, Helen G., et al. “The Effects of Television Advertisements for Junk Food versus Nutritious Food on Children’s Food Attitudes and Preferences.” Social Science & Medicine 65.7 (2007): 1311-1323.

dLando, Amy M., and Judith Labiner-Wolfe. “Helping Consumers Make More Healthful Food Choices: Consumer Views on Modifying Food Labels and Providing Point-of-Purchase Nutrition Information at Quick-Service Restaurants.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 39.3 (2007): 157-163.

eLin, Chung-Tung Jordan, et al. “2014 FDA Health and Diet Survey.” Department of Health and Human Services (2016): 1-43.

fLin, Chung-Tung J., and Steven T. Yen. “Knowledge of Dietary Fats among US Consumers.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.4 (2010): 613-618.

gOgden, Cynthia L., et al. “Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011-2014.” NCHS Data Brief 219.219 (2015): 1-8.

hPadel, Susanne, and Carolyn Foster. “Exploring the Gap between Attitudes and Behaviour: Understanding Why Consumers Buy or Do Not Buy Organic Food.” British Food Journal 107.8 (2005): 606-625.

i“Resolution, Smezolution! More U.S. Consumers Choosing Healthier Lifestyles Rather than Dieting.” NPD Group. 5 Jan. 2016.

jScaglioni, Silvia, et al. “Influence of Parental Attitudes in the Development of Children Eating Behaviour.” British Journal of Nutrition 99.S1 (2008): S22-S25.

k“We Are What We Eat: Healthy Eating Trends around the World.” Nielsen. Jan. 2015.

l“What’s Happening with Healthy and Natural.” The NPD Group/Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America.