Consumers Take Responsibility for Obesity

Research shows consumers say personal responsibility to blame for obesity, not fast food. Compiled by staff

Published on: Jul 22, 2004

New consumer research highlights a fundamental shift in opinion when it comes to who is at fault for the obesity epidemic in the United States. Recent findings from the 11th Annual Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition Study suggest more consumers now consider the main cause of obesity to be personal responsibility.

According to the study, funded by the United Soybean Board, last year 35% of respondents blamed the fast food industry for the nation's obesity epidemic with 29% citing "personal responsibility" as the primary cause. This year, the tables turned, with 36% of consumers identifying personal responsibility and 29% blaming the fast food industry for making Americans obese.

Whatever the causes of obesity, in the past year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited obesity as the number one cause of death related to preventable disease. Sixty-five percent of adults are either overweight or obese. Whether it's the skyrocketing media attention surrounding the obesity issue or whether it's a general shift in concern about nutrition, nearly nine out of 10 individuals still agree the Nutrition Facts food label is important. And, 74% of consumers surveyed have changed their eating habits due to concerns about health and nutrition, with 86% concerned about the nutritional make-up of their food.

Despite the push for better product labeling, consumers still remain confused over nutrition and health information. More than one-half of consumers find information on nutrition and health too confusing. In comparison to last year's results, consumers are more confused about the difference in fats:

  • 48% of consumers surveyed perceive omega-3 fatty acids as a healthy part of their diet.
  • Only 32% believed that polyunsaturated fats were healthy for them.
  • Monounsaturated fats were seen as healthy by only 29% of respondents.

In comparing trans fatty acids versus saturated fats, 40% said they believe trans fatty acids are healthier than saturated fats, while 33% gave the opposite response.

And what do consumers believe about the healthiness of soy? Fifty-eight percent of consumers surveyed agreed that soy products could aid in reducing obesity. Similar to last year, three-quarters of consumers rate soy products as healthy. Yet consumer willingness to pay more for healthier versions of foods dropped for the first time in four years, down from 72 to 68%. Twenty-five percent of consumers consume soy products more than once a week. More than half of those surveyed expressed an interest in a blended meat/soy product, in order to enjoy the benefits of both protein sources with beef as the preferred ground meat.

USB's 11th Annual Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey was conducted by an independent research firm. The study includes 1,000 random telephone interviews, providing a sample that is consistent with the American population. The margin of error is +/- 3.1% and has a confidence level of 95%.