Good Intentions, But …

On the heels of the recently released 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a new study finds that the intended behaviors of many adult U.S. consumers are in line with the USDA’s recommendations, but the practice of those intentions lags behind.

According to food market researching NPD Group, the widest gap between what U.S. adults say they are going to do and what they actually do is exercising regularly. The research report, “Healthy Eating Strategies by Generations,” finds that 62 percent of adults say they intend to exercise regularly, yet just 46 percent say that they actually do.

A second gap was observed in meal complexity and frequency. Eating smaller, more frequent meals is the intention of 44 percent of adults, but only 29 percent actually practice this. A third gap observed concerned caloric intake. Fifty-three percent said they were going to limit their calorie intake, yet just 38 percent of consumers said they are actually limiting the amount of calories they eat.

“A gap between actual behavior and future intentions exists on all dimensions of healthy eating behavior,” said Dori Hickey, NPD director of product development and author of the report. “The key is to find ways to bridge the gap by making it easier for consumers to put into practice their intentions by understanding what will motivate them to eat and live more healthfully.”

When it comes to bridging the gap and influencing healthier eating behaviors, the report finds that weight loss and living longer are the prime motivators for maintaining healthy eating habits for the younger generations. Living longer and feeling good take on greater importance among older generations; and losing weight is less important to these consumers. Underlying these motivations to eat healthier, are the key lifestyle drivers behind most consumers’ eating decisions ? convenience, taste and affordability.

“It comes down to focusing on the motivators for healthier eating. The first step is to make sure that messages are relevant to the group of consumers being targeted as motivations vary by generation,” Hickey said. “At the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of the taste, convenience and value. These are primary drivers of food choice overall for all generations.”

The NPD Group is a market research firm that continually tracks America’s eating behaviors.

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