Survey Tracks Americans' Knowledge of New Food Pyramid

FRESNO, Calif. -- A survey conducted by the California Olive Industry here found that almost three quarters of Americans believe their understanding of what the revised Food Pyramid means is less than "good."

The olive trade group conducted the survey over the two weeks following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's unveiling of the revised Food Pyramid. The intent was to gauge what consumers, nutritionists, and foodservice professionals knew about the new guidelines, and whether or not they intended to change dietary or exercise habits based on this new knowledge.

While more than 75 percent of the respondents said they knew of the Pyramid's new shape, only 27 percent said that their knowledge of what it entailed was "good." The respondents who were categorized as "home cooks" had significantly less knowledge of the guidelines than did the "nutritionists," who indicated a high level of understanding, with 72 percent saying their knowledge was "good" and 28 percent indicating it was "average." Those who consider themselves food service professionals, meanwhile, were in the middle, with 88 percent claiming a "good/average" level of knowledge.

Possessing knowledge of the guidelines appears so far to have had no immediate effect on dietary habits. Approximately 66 percent of respondents said they had made no changes in their diet in response to the guidelines.

The survey also quizzed participants about their future intentions. If the respondents pay more than lip service to their intent, the next 12 months should be healthier, with 68 percent reporting they intend to change how they eat and cook over the next year. Chefs led the pack, with over 76 percent indicating a plan to change.

To get a better gauge on how people track and measure their own diets, the survey asked whether individuals counted any of the following: calories, carbs or fats. Only about one-third of the respondents (33 percent) currently count calories. Recent reports on the decline in carb-cutting were confirmed by this study, as carbs were the least popular measurement, with 65 percent overall saying they don't count carbs, and 80 percent of nutritionists rejecting carb counting. Fats proved to be the most popular thing to count with about 57 percent of the home cook audience citing it. Chefs were least likely to count fats, with only 41 percent saying they did so.

Interestingly, the respondents reported a fairly high degree of awareness about the differences between monounsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats (69 percent overall), while approximately 72 percent said they "often" read food labels, and only 3 percent indicated that they did so "seldom/never."

Exercise may have muscled its way into a higher relevance also, with 37 percent overall reporting that the amount of exercise they are doing is better than last year, and only 7 percent saying their exercise program is worse.
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