Differences in perceptions of functional foods: UK public vs. nutritionists

Authors


Professor Janet Cade, Nutrition Epidemiology Group, Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds, 71–75 Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9PL, UK.
E-mail: j.e.cade@leeds.ac.uk

Summary

As concepts in nutrition move towards emphasising the use of foods to promote better health and to help reduce the risk of disease, a new generation of functional food products has emerged. Nutritionists play a key role in educating the public on matters regarding diet and health. Therefore, they need to understand consumers’ attitudes to ensure their work is effective. This study aims to explore consumers’ and nutritionists’ perceptions of this relatively new area of nutrition using a psychometric questionnaire, adapted from Fife-Schaw and Rowe (1996), to quantify attitudes towards five types of functional foods. The questionnaire was administered to 331 members of the British public (40% response rate) and a random sample of 199 members of the Nutrition Society (58% response rate). Perceptions held by the two groups were compared. Principal Components Analysis (PCA) was carried out to highlight underlying components revealed by the questionnaire. The most extreme differences in responses were evident on three issues: the ability to tell if functional foods were about to be consumed; who should take responsibility for informing consumers about the health effects; and understanding of functional foods. Nutritionists believed they had a greater understanding of functional foods and found it easier to tell if the foods they ate contained a functional component. Consumers had a stronger belief that it is the food manufacturers’ responsibility to provide information about functional foods. Using PCA to identify components of importance to each group confirmed differences in perceptions. For the consumer group worry and benefit were the most prominent components. For nutritionists, components relating to control and responsibility were most apparent. As consumers are more willing to look to food manufacturers than the government for information regarding these new foods, the importance of appropriate food labelling and legislation on health claims is of increasing importance. The differences in perceptions will be of interest to the different stakeholders involved in the provision of information to consumers, and should be used to ensure that appropriate messages and channels of communication are used in the development of this new branch of nutritional science.

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