Americans Lack Proper Dietary Knowledge
> 6/19/2008 2:38:00 PM


A large majority of Americans worry about not only their expanding waistlines but the quality of their diets and how their consumption habits affect all aspects of health. Unfortunately, they remain confused, if not outright misinformed, about the foods and quantities that they should be eating in order to best address those concerns.

The International Food Information Council Foundation sponsored a survey of 1,000 American adults in March 2007, asking questions about participants' satisfaction with their own bodies and lifestyles as well as plans for dietary revisions. One major conclusion to be drawn from their results is that the current focus on obesity and its consequences has definitely reached most Americans in some form, as 75% of survey participants voiced concern over their weight, a near 10-point increase over results from the same survey taken only one year before.

That number will probably continue to rise as, in the tradition of New Year's resolutions, many Americans make dietary/lifestyle plans or promises that they cannot or do not keep. But the survey also tested participants' knowledge of the relative health properties of certain foods, and its collected statistics hint at widely contradictory perceptions. While sixty percent of those with weight concerns reported that they are watching daily caloric intake as a dietary measure, only one in ten of the survey's participants actually knew how many calories they should be consuming every day. (FDA recommends 2000 calories for women and 2500 for men, though these numbers vary based on body type and activity level). Subjects also reported concern about quantities of fat in their diets, but very few could correctly distinguish the "good" fats from the "bad." While the dangers of trans-fats were clearly understood, a large percentage stated a desire to reduce their consumption of poly- and monounsaturated fats, which dietitians have stated to be the "safest" varieties. Any large quantities of saturated fats, on the other hand, should be avoided.

Americans clearly understand that most of their diets don't measure up, and they've heeded weight-related warnings, but their knowledge is strikingly incomplete, and even as they take reports from widely varied sources into consideration, most seem to overestimate the quality of their own health while reporting that they do not eat enough of the foods they know they need. Large majorities reported an awareness that certain foods can benefit cardiovascular health, digestion and physical stamina, but less than half believed that they themselves ate sufficient quantities of the foods in question. These results then raise the question: what is the source of this disconnect? If Americans know how to eat right, why do they not do it? Is it a matter of inconvenience? Does it really require so much additional effort to eat well? Does comfort preclude health concerns? What role does public perception and media influence play in this issue?

Some rightly argue that America's obsession with weight and the media's insistence on furthering the idea that there must be something wrong with you if you are overweight by questionable BMI standards is actually one of the main factors behind our current epidemic. The claim that people would be healthier overall if they simply ignored the swirling diet trend machine and used common sense in choosing foods and portions is very reasonable. But this survey makes clear the fact that Americans sorely need to better educate themselves on what constitutes a healthy diet. A little research into the matter, eschewing a reliance on advertising and other profit-oriented sources, would be a good start.

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