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96% of Americans say they want to eat “healthy,” whatever that means.

Mike Pomranz
June 23, 2017

In theory, everyone wants to be healthy. Even if the idea of a raw foods diet makes you nauseous or the closest you get to athletic activity is watching it on TV, you still don’t want to be sick. And that’s actually part of the problem: As the International Food Information Council’s 2017 Food and Health Survey shows, people don’t even agree on what being “healthy” means. And that’s just the beginning of all the confusion and contradiction of how people feel about their food and health.

For its 12th annual survey, the IFIC looked at online responses from 1,002 Americans from the ages of 18 to 80. When it came to simply defining the idea of “healthy,” the majority of people chose to say it meant simply not having any health problems as opposed to having healthy habits such as eating properly and exercising. That led to some pretty interesting contradictions: For instance, 59 percent of respondents claimed their health was very good or excellent despite one-third of those people being either overweight or obese.

This lack of common ground on health issues was a regular theme throughout the survey. A whopping 78 percent of people said they encountered a lot of conflicting information about what they should and shouldn’t eat, with over half of that group saying it makes them doubt their food choices overall. The biggest issue may be where people get their information from and how they process it. Those surveyed said they were just as likely to listen to friends and family about what to eat as they were to listen to personal healthcare professionals. And yet despite the fact that 77 percent of people said they at least partially rely on friends and family for nutrition information, only 29 percent said they actually have high trust in that information. Maybe that explains why though almost all participants said they wanted health benefits from their diets, less than half could name any foods or nutrients that could provide those benefits.

Overall, the survey paints an interesting picture: People want to be healthy, but they seem unsure how to get there – and maybe aren’t even sure where “there” is. “As in previous years, the Food and Health Survey has shown that Americans feel overwhelmed by conflicting food and nutrition information,” IFIC Foundation CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement. “But this year, we’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that some people are attracted to the idea of giving up food all together?