Posted by: davidjolson | 05/19/2011

“Remember the people” in communicating about food

This guest blog was written by Kimberly Reed, executive director of International Food Information Council Foundation, and a member of the Global Health Council delegation to the World Health Assembly. It is being co-published on the blog of the International Food Information Council Foundation

Kimberly Reed

GENEVA — This week, I am attending the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), an annual gathering of health ministers and global health leaders, as a civil society delegate with the Global Health Council.  I am here because of WHA’s focus on non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and control.  NCDs include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease, and are responsible for two-thirds of all deaths globally.

The outcomes from WHA, like those coming out of the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and NCD Control last month in Moscow (to which the IFIC Foundation provided input), will inform the U.N. General Assembly discussion on the same topic in September.

In her keynote address, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan urged partners in global health to “remember the people.”  The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation  also believes it’s important to remember the people as part of furthering our mission of effectively communicating on science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition.    

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed to the Assembly that, as part of NCD prevention and control, we must invest in “powerful, cost-effective interventions like . . . promoting healthy diets and exercise.”  In order to help individuals and families achieve healthful, active lifestyles, the IFIC Foundation believes that responses must include the use of science-based, behavior-focused messages.  Messages should be clear, useful, and motivating. And, for messages to have their fullest impact, qualitative and quantitative consumer research and testing of consumer messages is critical.

New research into factors contributing to NCDs

Our just-released IFIC Foundation’s 2011 Food and Health Survey highlights consumer insights into understanding the contributing factors to NCDs, such as obesity, and mitigating strategies, such as improved diet and increased physical activity.

Specifically, the survey asked American consumers to indicate “which of the following medical conditions, if any, do you or any member of your household currently have or are at risk of having?” and listed fourteen medical conditions, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Through subpopulation analysis, we find that Americans reporting NCDs in their household compared to those who don’t are more likely to:

  • Say their health is fair/poor and report being overweight or extremely overweight.
  • Report that they are concerned about their weight and are trying to lose weight.
  • Report their level of physical activity as sedentary (as opposed to moderately or vigorously active).
  • Report “not at all” when asked if they keep track of energy balance (calories consumed vs. burned.)
  • Say they have changed the amount of food consumed in the last six months and the number of eating occasions (among Americans who have made a change in their diet in the past six months).
  • Look for information on packages when purchasing foods and beverages and to look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel, expiration date, ingredients list, size of product, cooking instructions, statements about nutrition benefits and country of origin.

Consumer insights like these are key to informing appropriate NCD prevention and control responses. To quote Dr. Chan, we must “remember the people.”

For more information and to view an executive summary and access the full findings of the IFIC Foundation 2011 Food & Health Survey, please visit

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