Family Dinner Key to Healthy Eating: FMI/Prevention Study

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are gathering around the dinner table to eat healthier foods, according to a new national survey released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) here and Prevention magazine. The study found a strong correlation between consumers who try the hardest to eat healthfully, and those who eat dinner at home nearly every day.

In the survey, nearly three in four shoppers (71 percent) said they believe the food they eat at home is healthier than meals consumed out. More than nine in 10 consumers said they prepare at least one home-cooked dinner from scratch every week, and more than half (68 percent) said they do it almost daily.

This home-equals-health belief extends to school lunches. Parents said they are far more satisfied with the nutritional value of the bagged lunches they prepare at home for their children (60 percent) vs. school cafeteria food (30 percent).

"These findings underscore the powerful impact of the family dinner," said FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds. "Regular family dinners are the best way parents can help their children eat healthy meals. These dinners also help children perform well in school and avoid abusing alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, according to research by Columbia University."

Relatively few shoppers, however, said they believe that grocery stores offer "many" healthy options in frozen entrees (16 percent), packaged foods (8 percent), or even ready-to-cook (10 percent) and prepared foods (12 percent). Even fewer said they feel this way about healthy options from fast food (5 percent) and other take-out establishments (6 percent).

Many shoppers expressed interest in nutrition guidance from supermarkets through:
Signs indicating healthy food choices (73 percent)
Signs and information about disease management (66 percent)
Staff who can answer nutrition questions (62 percent)
Weight loss and diet information (56 percent)
Cooking classes to teach consumers about healthy meals (49 percent)

The report also found that Americans continue struggle to follow more nutritious diets: 57 percent are trying "a lot," 55 percent said they are overweight, and 23 percent of parents reported having an overweight child.

Consumers tend to be "free agents," trying to manage diets on their own, which makes them more susceptible to fads, according to the study. Among those who diet, 59 percent said they are just "calorie watching or watching what they eat," 11 percent follow a low-carb diet, and 9 percent said they follow the Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers program.

More consumers said they are turning to organic foods to improve their diets. In fact, organic food purchases increased in virtually all the major categories:
44 percent purchased organic fruits and vegetables in the past six months vs. 37 percent last year
30 percent, organic milk or other dairy products vs. 23 percent
29 percent, organic cereals, breads, or pastas vs. 25 percent
24 percent, organic meats or poultry vs. 17 percent
24 percent, organic packaged foods (e.g., snacks and beverages) vs. 21 percent
21 percent, organic eggs vs. 18 percent
16 percent, organic soups and sauces vs. 12 percent

The chief motivation to buy organic foods remains the perceived nutrition value, which was cited by eight in 10 shoppers; and nearly two-thirds mentioned long-term health effects. Just over half listed the environmental impact of growing or producing these foods.

This Shopping for Health 2006: Making Healthy Eating Easier survey is the 15th in a series of annual surveys of America's supermarket shoppers conducted by FMI and Rodale Inc.'s Prevention magazine with support from Men's Health and Women's Health magazines.

This report was based on a national telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted July 2006. All respondents had primary or equally shared responsibility for their household's grocery shopping.
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