A recent study from the International Food Information Council revealed that adults over 50 are relying on their diet to boost their health. Results of the study were based on survey responses from 1,005 Americans 50 and older.

The fight for body, heart, and mind health

Despite coming from diverse backgrounds, 90% of respondents agreed that it’s never too late to change eating and lifestyle habits. The overwhelmingly positive attitude about nutrition in older Americans is encouraging, as the odds are stacked against us when it comes to life-threatening health issues, especially later in life.

The high prevalence of health issues that become more common in later life, like heart disease, dementia, and obesity, are significant drivers of dietary change. According to the survey, cardiovascular health and brain function (memory, focus, cognition) are leading reasons why older Americans are improving their diet, alongside muscle health/mobility, energy, and weight management. The survey revealed that weight management had the greatest impact on actual diets.

Making better-for-you choices

Six in 10 survey respondents said their current eating habits are better than they were 20 years ago.  

The survey revealed the following as strategies Americans over 50 are adopting to improve their health through diet:  

  • Reading ingredients lists and nutrition facts labels to make more educated decisions about what they’re eating. In fact, 75% of respondents said they pay more attention now to food labeling than they did 20 years ago.
  • Limiting consumption of things like salt, sugar, and saturated fats.
  • Making an effort to get the right balance and variety of protein, fruit, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, and healthy oils.
  • Replacing less-healthy food and beverages with nutrient-packed alternatives.

News articles and headlines, family members, and primary care physicians are the top three primary sources of information on health and nutrition for the group surveyed.

Hurdles to healthy eating

Eating healthy doesn’t come without its challenges, however. Just under half (45%) of respondents said that it’s difficult to eat a healthy diet, and only a quarter said it’s somewhat easy.

Data presented in the study reveals a general misunderstanding about what it means to eat healthily. Older Americans change their diets to improve health conditions, but some couldn’t name a food item to avoid (~30%) or to seek out (25%) that would guide them towards their health goals. Further, the majority of respondents reported they require a different amount of specific food groups (e.g., fruits, vegetables) than the USDA recommends.

Key takeaways for the food industry

The results of this study offer valuable insight for food industry professionals crafting messaging for this age group.

#1. Focus on quality over quantity

First, focus on how eating healthy can improve the overall quality of life over how certain foods can increase longevity or treat a single problem (for example, how Cheerios can help reduce cholesterol). The study says, “Emotional appeals that reference the impact that a balanced diet can have on quality of life surpasses the impact of a fact-based message that references only a reduced risk of heart disease.”

#2. Continue working towards clear labeling

As healthy eating becomes increasingly important adults over 50, most are paying more attention to labeling. And it’s not just the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel getting all the attention. Survey respondents said they study any calorie and nutrition information (via graphics), statements about nutrition benefits, and statements/claims about health benefits on packaging before making purchasing decisions.

#3. Leverage your familiar food brand

When it comes to what food items actually make it into an American adult’s cart, taste is priority number one. Familiarity, however, is right up there as a top purchase influencer, giving familiar food brands a ripe opportunity to appeal to health-seeking adults. The Well Yes! line of soups from Campbell’s, for example, still features the classic logo, but also includes nutrition information, photography depicting fresh ingredients, and more on the front label.

Boomers and their elders hold significant buying power in the economy. Consider the findings of this study as you make decisions on how to market to this age group and diversify your product portfolio.

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