A major new report from MINTEL, looking at the nation's attitudes
towards food, shows that half (48%) of all British adults are 'fed up
with being told what to eat by ‘do-gooders’ on healthy eating
campaigns'. It would seem that a very sizeable portion of the British
public is showing signs of health education ‘overload’, however
well-intentioned the initiatives are.
What is more, MINTEL’s exclusive consumer research reveals that many
adults express an element of confusion over what actually constitutes
healthy food. Around seven in 10 (69%) adults say 'it is hard to know
which foods are healthy as advice from experts keeps changing', while
almost three in five (58%) say that 'it is difficult to work out if
foods are healthy from the labels or information on the pack'.
"There is clearly a large number of adults who are suffering from
chronic information overload when it comes to healthy eating issues.
Today, there is a wealth of information, which bombards the public in
matters of health and diet and given the complexity of many of these
issues, it is hardly surprising that so many consumers feel confused.
It seems they may now be in ‘switch off mode’ when it comes to this
advice, which has been named by MINTEL as 'do-gooder fatigue’. Clearly,
health education campaigners need to find new ways to encourage change
for the better in diet among this section of the population," explains
James McCoy, Senior Market Analyst at MINTEL.
"That said, British eating habits remain sharply polarised, and at the
other end of the spectrum MINTEL anticipates the emergence of a
so-called ‘Super Consumer'. These forward thinking Britons will take
everything on board in terms of diet and health issues and will be more
discerning about the food they put on their plate, be it for
themselves, their partners or their family as a whole," adds James
Despite widespread irritation with healthy eating campaigns, the
research also shows that around half of adults consider themselves to
be overweight to some degree. In fact, some one in five (22%) feel that
they are 'quite a bit overweight', with women (25%) more likely than
men (18%) to feel this way.
"It is interesting to speculate whether there is any correlation
between a relatively buoyant mood in the economy and spiralling levels
of overweight and obese adults in Britain. It should be borne in mind
however, that eating habits tend to evolve over time, and that economic
prosperity is likely to be only one aspect of a more complex set of
factors behind the current so-called obesity epidemic," adds James
Those aged 55-64 years old are the most likely to see themselves as
being ‘slightly overweight’, which is consistent with more sedentary
lifestyles and a tendency to be fighting the classic middle age spread.
Interestingly, the 15-24 year olds are the most likely to feel that
they are 'about the right weight'.
What is naughty but nice when it comes to food
MINTEL’s research shows that chocolate confectionery (31%) and
crisps/bagged snacks (30%), both of which are heavily advertised, are
the ‘usual suspects’ in terms of people's food weaknesses when it comes
to weight. But Britain is clearly a nation of 'sweet tooths'. Indeed,
some three out of the top four products people see as their weaknesses
are sweet - chocolate bars, cakes and biscuits.
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, is that wine (20%) is more likely to be
seen as a weight weakness than beer (16%). These findings show just how
popular wine has become in Britain over the last two decades, although
more people still drink beer and lager than wine.
It would seem that Atkins may also have had an effect on what people
see as their food weaknesses. Some one in six (16%) adults see bread as
their weakness, despite the Balance of Good Health model actually
advocating eating more carbohydrates. This suggests that there is
likely to be an 'Atkins effect', where carbohydrates are somewhat
frowned upon as 'bad' foods, even if this is at odds with official
health information advice.
Saturated with fat
Overall in 2004, some 44% of women claimed to be trying to slim,
compared to just 25% of men. When it comes to cutting down on unhealthy
food, the top three relate to cutting down the consumption of fat. Some
two in five (39%) are at present or have in the past cut back on the
amount of saturated fat they eat, making this the most popular change
in eating habits. This is closely followed by switching to lower fat
alternatives such as skimmed milk (34%), and eating fewer cooked
breakfasts or grilling instead of frying (33%), both of which may
simply be seen as fairly achievable healthy changes to make.
But it would seem that the British public are less stringent in efforts
to curb their sweet tooth, as only a third (32%) of adults are cutting
down on sugar and chocolate at present, or have done so in the past.
"This is a fairly modest response when considering the number of people
who see sweet products as their weakness. This suggests that Britain is
a nation of 'sweet tooths', with many seeing a cut back on sweet treats
such as chocolate bars as too much of a sacrifice. The fact is that
foods such as chocolate are also important 'mood foods', which for many
satisfy an 'emotional' need when bored or fed up. Indeed, some one in
five (21%) adults snack because they are bored and a further one in ten
(8%) snack when they are depressed," explains James McCoy.
What is more, just one in five (21%) adults mention cutting down on
crisps/nuts/snacks, once again falling short of the proportion who
consider these products as the bane of their weight (30%). Findings
again show the very 'moreishness' of bagged snacks and crisps in
Many adults are also not biting the bullet on their alcohol
consumption. In fact, fewer than one in five (17%) adults either have
or are currently cutting down the amount of alcohol they drink. Clearly
drinking alcoholic beverages has become embedded in British cultural
and recreational life.
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