May 30, 2007 / 7:15 PM / 11 years ago

Study spots gaps in Americans' diet and health IQ

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Ninety percent of Americans say breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet, but just 49 percent manage to eat breakfast every day, a new survey shows.

And only 11 percent know the amount of calories they should consume daily to maintain a healthy weight, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s second annual Food & Health Survey. “The only good thing is more people tried to guess than last year,” Susan Borra, the president of the Washington, DC-based IFIC Foundation, told Reuters Health.

IFIC commissioned a survey of 1,000 US adults, this March to better understand people’s beliefs and behaviors regarding healthy eating. The survey identified a number of “diet disconnects” between what people intend to do and their actual habits, according to Borra and her team.

Among the most striking “disconnects,” Borra said in an interview, concerned knowledge about good and bad fats. While current guidelines recommend people consume more polyunsaturated fats, found in fish and some whole grain foods, and monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocados and vegetable oils, she noted, 42 percent of those surveyed said they were trying to eat fewer polyunsaturated fats and 38 percent reported trying to cut down on monounsaturated fats.

However, 70 percent of people said they were trying to cut down on saturated fat, more than last year’s 57 percent. Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils, among other sources, and have been tied to an increased risk off heart disease and stroke.

While 84 percent said they were physically active at least once a week for health benefits, only 44 percent said they “balanced diet and physical activity” for weight management. “That concept of calories in, calories out isn’t quite making the consumer radar screen,” Borra said. “That’s another big disconnect.”

And while most people surveyed knew about the benefits of functional foods; for example, 80 percent knew such foods could benefit the heart, just 42 percent actually ate such heart-healthy foods.

“Consumers are interested in health, they want to have a healthy lifestyle, but they’re just having a tremendous difficulty achieving it,” Borra said, adding that people’s “hectic, crazy lifestyles” and the confusing mix of information out there don’t help matters.

Borra recommends people stick to good sources of information on diet and health, such as IFIC’s Web site (www.ific.org); the federal government’s mypyramid.gov; the American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org); and the American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org).

She also urges people to make incremental changes in their lifestyle habits, rather than trying to do everything all at once, and recommends IFIC’s “Your Personal Path to Health: Steps to a Healthier You” as a good source for identifying ways to make these small changes.

“If you just make a couple of small steps a day, you’re doing a lot to achieving a healthy lifestyle in the long run,” Borra said.

SOURCE: International Food Information Council Foundation, May 22, 2007.

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