Using Behavioral Tendencies to Predict Your Food and Nutrition Habits

November 20, 2014

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When it comes to food and nutrition, consumers have never been more aware about the calories and nutritional content of the foods they eat.  A recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) analyzed the health and diet beliefs of over 1,000 Americans to determine how consumers’ behavioral habits affect their food purchasing decisions. Five overarching themes emerged from their research:

  • Taste, price and healthfulness have the greatest impact on food selection
  • The importance of both diet and physical activity is beginning to resonate with consumers
  • Consumers most often use shopping lists and coupons to help dictate meal planning
  • There are perceived gaps between what consumers know and their resulting behaviors
  • Americans view health professionals as their most trusted source on nutrition, physical activity and weight loss

The survey also categorized each participant into their appropriate phase of the Transtheoretical Model. This model, first developed by Dr. James Prochaska in 1977, is commonly used to evaluate stages of behavioral change, focusing on an individual’s decision-making process. Everyone begins in the precontemplation stage where there are no plans for immediate change.  As people move through the cycle, they become aware of the need for change and begin to take action. In the last stage, termination, people have no desire to resort back to their original behavior and have confidence that they won’t relapse. It is rare to reach this stage- most people remain in the maintenance phase where they are able to uphold the healthier behavior on a long-term basis, but must work to ensure they do not fall back to a previous stage.

Transtheoretical Model

Transtheoretical Model

So how does this relate to food and nutrition? After classifying each respondent’s stage of change, researchers identified the health behaviors reflective of each stage. Here’s what they found:

  • Pre-contemplation/Contemplation Young, single males.  They are impacted by convenience more than healthfulness in their decision to purchase foods and beverages. They are also less likely to use nutrition information when eating out or think about the amount of calories in the foods they eat.
  • Action Females, college graduates, millennials. These individuals are interested in food and nutrition issues and will use nutrition information when dining out.  They are most likely to believe statements the media and on product labels. They are also highly influenced by the healthfulness of their food.
  • Maintenance Stage – Older adults who would describe their health as excellent or very good. They are most likely to disagree with statements in the media and on product labels but will likely use nutrition information when eating out. Those in the maintenance stage are thoughtful about the specific nutrients and ingredients in a product when purchasing foods and beverages.

Identifying the unique food habits for each stage of change can be beneficial to both health professionals and food companies in the long-run. By better understanding the tendencies of each group, health professionals will be able to tailor health interventions specific to a consumer’s current stage in the model. Businesses can also use the model as a way to better understand their target audience and the food and nutrition issues that matter most to them. IFIC’s 2014 Food and Health survey has formed a great basis for understanding how behavioral science plays a role in food and nutrition decisions. It will be interesting to see how food and nutrition influencers use this information to initiate consumer behavior change in the coming years.