A Nation Divided on Healthy Food

If you want some understanding of why sensible food policy is so hard, study the results of new opinion research by the Pew Research Center. Researchers Cary Funk and Brian Kennedy find that beliefs about healthy food, more than education and facts, shape the way that people think about questions:

These choices reflect personalized “ideologies” that shape how people think about and consume food. They are not all-encompassing world views, but they inform key behaviors and attitudes around life’s staples.

Most Americans (54%) say they pay more attention to eating healthy foods now than they did in the past. But people are very divided what those “healthy foods” are. Regarding genetically modified (GM) foods, Americans are pretty much split. Nearly half (48%) say they are no different from other foods. But a sizeable minority (39%) believes they are worse for a person’s health.

Unlike other issues, Pew found that political affiliation, education, age, or income don’t much influence beliefs about food issues. It’s mostly a matter of personal philosophies about the relationship between food and well-being.

One point of agreement is that people believe they are in control of their own healthy destiny. More than 70% agree that healthy eating and active living are very important for living a long and healthy life. In contrast, only 47% think that genetics and hereditary factors are important.

Along with a strong sense of control over their own destiny, most people (72%) have a strong sense that we pretty well understand the core ideas about how to eat healthy. Far fewer (25%) find themselves confused by conflicting information.

So everyone is sure they have this healthy eating thing under control. The only problem is that people have wildly different ideas about what it is. And they’re mostly immune to information that conflicts with their own ideas.

No wonder sensible, evidence-based food policy is so hard.

Click here for the report from Pew, here for more from Food Navigator USA, and here for yet more research from NPD.

Divide, photograph © Stefano Corso / flickr

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December 21, 2016