Study Finds Large Gaps in U.S. Consumers Understanding of Nutrition

clay-pot-622750_1920A brief look at modern American society will show that many people are concerned about nutrition and health. From organic produce to whole grain Cheetos, people are more concerned than ever about the vitamins and nutrients in the foods to eat. However, a recent study suggests that people don’t understand vitamins and a healthy diet nearly as much as they think they do. DSM released results from a survey that showed a huge gap between what people thought about their diet and what the research says.

The survey was conducted by Edelman Berland on behalf of DSM. They asked more than 3,000 U.S. consumers about their thoughts on nutrition issues and their estimates of their personal nutrient intake. The results showed that consumers are overconfident about their diet and essential nutrient intake.

Though half of Americans want to eat healthier, the same number (51%) are confused about the science behind nutrition recommendations. This leads to a situation where many people think they are eating healthier than they really are. The researchers cited data from The Journal of Nutrition that suggest only 10 percent of Americans get all their recommended nutrients, but the majority (57%) of the people in the DSM survey thought they were probably getting all the nutrients they needed.

The study also found multiple cases where people had knowledge about certain health topics, but that they didn’t know some key features about these topics. For example: Most are familiar with vitamins D and E (92 and 83 percent, respectively), while only about half are familiar with DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. And though the lion’s share knew about Vitamin D a fourth of consumers were unsure of how vitamin D supports bodily function.

The survey also found that people were large unaware of nutrients where more recent research has shown the benefits, like lutein (29 percent) and zeaxanthin (6 percent). According to one study, that was cited by WebMD, people with diets high in foods rich in zeaxanthin, particularly spinach, kale, and broccoli, were up to 50 percent less likely to develop cataracts. Despite such results, only 10 percent are aware that zeaxanthin can support optimal vision health; only 9 percent know that lutein may support brain health.

DSM is a manufacturer of nutritional products such as food and dietary supplements, medical devices, etc., so one can’t disregard the possible profit-based motives for releasing this research. The company says the purpose of the study is to help people better understand the factors that affect their health.

“Our results will help consumers be their brightest selves. Our mission is to raise awareness about the nutrition gap of essential nutrients, and resolve conflicting and confusing information about the keys to better nutrition to help fill that gap,” said Will Black, DSM Vice President of Marketing for Human Nutrition & Health, North America in a press release. “This survey identifies barriers to better nutrition and information.”

Applications of this Research

Before discussing the applications of this research, it’s good to stop and look at the quality of research itself. As mentioned before, the survey was commissioned by a nutrition product manufacturer. Additionally, the survey itself was conducted by Edelman Berland, the research arm of the Edelman public relations firm, a firm that has been known for using questionable tactics in the past. This just means that readers should take this research with a very large grain of salt.

Even with these limitations in the research, there are several important takeaways for business owners, consumers and professionals in certain industries. Business owners have an interest in promoting good health in their employees. The chronic illnesses that can be prevented by healthy eating lead to costly delays and increased insurance costs. Employers can have their HR teams think of health information that will be helpful to employees and post it in break rooms or company newsletters. As this data shows, it’s not safe to assume that people already know everything they need to know about nutrition.

Speaking of nutrition, this data is useful for health coaches, nutrition experts and others. Understanding the gaps between what people think they know about nutrition and the facts lets these professionals communicate with clients more effectively. For example, most people know that their body needs calcium, but many don’t know that Vitamin D is essential for a body to absorb the calcium. Providing that kind of knowledge to consumers can help them make better health choices and establish the professionals level of knowledge.

For more recent research about health and nutrition, read this article about a University of Tennessee study that suggests certain active video games are as good for kids activity levels as unstructured play outside.

Donald Postway

About Donald Postway

Donald Postway is a freelance communications specialist and business analyst. He has a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in communication, both from the University of North Florida. He has worked in a variety of industries, including local government, information technology, marketing, retail and more.

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