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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Nutritional Scientist Considers Barriers to Healthy Eating in America

LAS CRUCES--Americans may know what foods they should be eating to stay healthy. But, in the end, our taste buds rule.

Ann Bock, a nutritional scientist with New Mexico State University, led a team of researchers to study the factors that influence what Americans eat.

"The objective was to see if we could find barriers to following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines related to fat and fiber," said Bock with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station.

To find out, the researchers sent surveys to a random list of people in 11 states an the District of Columbia. More than 3,000 people responded for a 51.5 return rate.

"We were interested to find that likes and dislikes are probably the single greatest factor for people," Bock said.

Even among a subset of dietitians surveyed, the same barrier to healthy eating showed up, she added.

The results tell people in the health professions and the food industry that they need to work together to offer lower-fat, higher-fiber foods that taste good, Bock said.

The researchers were surprised to find that the cost of foods wasn't as big a barrier to healthy eating as they expected. "People are fairly willing to pay for convenience and having those foods that they perceive as healthier for them," she said.

The study particularly focused on whether factors that influence what Americans eat differ by gender or ethnicity. Bock said the results could help health promoters tailor their nutritional education efforts to different audiences.

"After likes and dislikes, women tended to be most concerned about health and weight issues," Bock said.

More than 55 percent of the men responding, on the other hand, indicated that their spouse or significant other was a "very important" influence on what they eat. "What we could take from this result is that if you want to influence male eating or intake, maybe you need to work with the female in the household," she said.

The researchers did find some differences in barriers to healthy eating among ethnic groups, as well. For example, African Americans were more concerned about than other groups.

"We are not sure why that is," Bock said. "We know that African Americans have blood pressure issues to deal with. We know that they have obesity issues that are higher than normal levels in the United States to deal with. So, those factors may be playing a role."

Time to prepare food also was a barrier to healthy eating, particularly for African Americans, she said.

"I think that speaks to our very, very busy lifestyle. I think it also tells people in the health professions and the food service industry that Americans want convenience," Bock said.

In particular, people want convenient foods that are good-tasting, healthy and low-fat, she added.

In their quest for more convenient foods, people also are looking for cookbooks featuring recipes with fewer ingredients that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.