How believable is advertising about the health benefits of food? (chart) Too many foods claim to be healthy (chart) I'm getting tired of experts telling me which foods are good for me (chart) EXCUSES ERODE ADHERENCE TO HEALTHY DIET ALMOST 40% IN SURVEY HAVE TROUBLE BELIEVING HEALTHFUL FOOD AD CLAIMS

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There is fatigue among the ranks of U.S. food shoppers.

After years of hearing the beating of the healthy lifestyle movement's drums, Americans say they are concerned about the overall quality of their diets.

But that concern isn't necessarily translating into dietary change, especially among those who reside on society's lower rungs.

Most people, and especially those in lower income brackets and with less education, still are eating too many high-fat foods and too few fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, according to a survey commissioned by Food Marketing Institute and Prevention, shared with Advertising Age.

The telephone survey of 1,000 U.S. adults who are their household's primary food shoppers was conducted by Parkwood Research Associates Feb. 1-16. It has a margin of error of 3.5%.

Marketers can share part of the blame for consumers' healthful food fatigue.

The survey found U.S. shoppers are disillusioned with the healthy lifestyle movement and that they are confused about how to achieve a healthful diet. For example:

An overwhelming majority said there are too many foods that claim to be healthy (40.5% strongly agreed with this statement, 34.7% mostly agreed).

Slightly more than half of respondents said advertising gives them a lot of useful information about the health benefits of different foods. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the remaining masses (i.e., 45.5%), feel just the opposite (3% don't know how they feel about food ads).

Not surprisingly, feelings about the usefulness of advertising vary among different demographic groups.

For example, 73.8% of black respondents agreed food advertising provides useful information about health benefits, compared with 48.8% of whites and 59.7% of Hispanics.

And the less educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to find ad claims to be helpful.

Overweight individuals find food ad claims to be more useful than do those who are underweight. And at the same time, people who exercise six to seven times a week find food ad claims more beneficial than do people who exercise less often.

When asked again about advertised health benefits of food products, only 3.5% said they are very believable; 55.6% said such advertising is somewhat believable; 28.4% said it's somewhat unbelievable; and 10.2% said such ad claims are very unbelievable.

The latter groups were then asked if they have ever been misled by advertising that talks about the health benefits of different foods: 41.2% said yes and 51.5% said no (7.3% said they didn't know).

Many respondents said they are tired of "experts" telling them which foods to eat and which ones to avoid.

Those respondents who are in older age groups are more likely to fall into this group than younger respondents.

Nearly half of respondents feel it costs more to eat healthy foods.

Hispanic respondents agreed with this statement much more than people from other races: 62.9% of them agreed, compared with 57.2% of blacks and 43.8% of whites.

People who do not consider themselves health conscious and those with poor understanding of nutrition also are more inclined to feel healthy foods are too costly.

33.2% of respondents said they're not sure what to eat because there is so much conflicting information about which foods are good for their health.

Women find themselves in this quandary more so than men: 46% of women compared with 35.5% of men agreed with that premise.

And 59.6% of Hispanics are troubled by the conflicting information about food. Compare that to 41% of whites and 51.2% of blacks.

Clearly, consumers are troubled with the information they are receiving about the health benefits of food, be it from "experts", advertising or food labels.

But they still could use marketers' help. Nearly half of the survey respondents said they are concerned about the fat in their diet but are unsure how to cut down on it-women more so than men: 51.9% of women vs. 39.6% of men.

And the survey found more than half of Midwesterners (54.3%) and Southerners (53.5%) don't quite know how to cut the fat out of their diets, either. In other regions: 44.% of respondents from the Northeast and 36.5% of Westerners said they don't know how to reduce fat.

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