Consumer Communications Research Findings & Application
Create messages that will inspire individuals to look for more
information about healthy eating.
Communicate Dietary Guidelines concepts that are scientifically
accurate, yet are understandable and meaningful to consumers (individuals).
Focus Groups were conducted to
gain insights into both the reactions to and interpretations of potential
Dietary Guidelines recommendations and attitudes toward motivators
designed to compel participants to search for more information about healthy
eating behaviors. The target audience for the focus groups was 24-64-year-old
healthy weight or overweight men and women (not obese) with an interest in
healthy eating and no chronic disease1.
Groups were stratified by age, gender, and BMI score (self
reported height/weight by participants with BMI calculated by recruiter; healthy
weight BMI = 19-24.9; overweight BMI = 25.0-29.9). Participants fell into one of
two different age categories: 24 to 44 years of age and 45 to 64 years of age.
They represented a mix of ethnicity, education levels, marital statuses, and
Overall, the focus groups:
Explored information sources that conveyed healthy eating
messages and the degree to which respondents trust those sources.
Reviewed a number of thematic phrases to determine which would
most likely inspire respondents to search for more information about how to "be
Focused on how effectively specific words and statements
conveyed potential Dietary Guidelines recommendations (overall clarity and
TOTAL NUMBER OF GROUPS = 8
- Respondents identified doctors, word of mouth (e.g., friends, colleagues,
family), and to a lesser extent, the Internet, books, and magazines as sources
of health information. Many participants questioned the often conflicting
information received from these multiple sources, and as a result, expressed
frustration about the difficulties associated with finding "correct" healthy
eating information that is applicable to their unique lifestyles.
- Specific themes resonated with respondents that would inspire them to
search for more information about healthy eating: My health is my
future, A better me, It's all about balance and It's not a program. It's a
The degree to which respondents valued healthy eating as a component of being
healthy differed. Some included improving eating and exercise behaviors as
important steps to becoming healthy, whereas others emphasized non-nutritional
activities such as quitting smoking or reducing stress in their lives.
- General points that surfaced during discussions for the Dietary
- Be inclusive -- respondents want to be able to apply them to their
individual lifestylesand not in ways that do not automatically assume that
they engage in a negative behavior.
- Trust of the recommendations' source is imperative. It's easier to
trust (and follow) the recommendations of a blanket statement if respondents
feel they can rely on the source.
- Familiarity with these messages did not equate to comprehension.
Although respondents said they are bombarded with numerous healthy eating
messages, they still exhibit confusion about a number of healthy eating terms,
even those they have "heard before."
- Rejected overly worded or phrases that sounded too "market-y."
Simply providing additional information is not a solution to reducing the
knowledge gap. Additional information is frequently requested but there is
clear aversion to overly wordy statements that the respondents would unlikely
read outside the focus group setting.
APPLICATION OF FOCUS GROUP INFORMATION
Motivation is essential: When communicating the Dietary Guidelines for
Americans, put them in a context that is meaningful to consumers (individuals).
- Reinforce the theme: Feel better today. Stay healthy for tomorrow. And
leverage the findings from the following four themes that inspired consumers
to search for more information:
- My health is my future Consumers connect with the theme's emphasis
on the importance of staying healthy for themselves, their families, and
- A better me Consumers like the positive outcomes associated with the
message and the ease with which they could connect the message to their
- It's all about balance This captures the need for individuals to identify
what behaviors are right for them, given their body type and lifestyle.
- It's not a program. It's a lifestyle – This reiterates the need to make
healthy lifestyle changes, rather than following an overly prescriptive, or
Trust is important, and consumers (individuals) like to be reassured of
- Position the Dietary Guidelines as a trustworthy and usable:
- "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide you with core
principles from which you can build a healthy lifestyle based on individual
needs, likes and dislikes."
- "These Dietary Guidelines are based on the most up-to-date
science available and come from the leading health and nutrition experts in
- "Incorporating the principles of the Dietary Guidelines into your
day-to-day eating and activity habits will help you feel better and have
more energy now, and stay healthy for yourself and your loved-ones in the
The more the individual knows, the more choices they have.
- Communicate "choice" to speak to and empower the
- "'Choice' helps you to empower, personalize, and educate."
- Encourage individuals to make smart choices from a variety of foods,
learn how to use the label to make choices, and choose to be more physically
active. It is all about choicesand finding what's right for you.
Keep it simple, but true to the science.
- Communicate simply, keeping in mind that consumers are:
- Confused by conflicting health messages that revolve around them.
- Unclear about "nutritional" and "healthy-eating" terms such as "trans
fat," "nutrient dense," "energy needs," and "good fat."
1 This focus group research was intended to reach a primary
audience of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is recognized that
other research will be used to develop more targeted, specific messages.
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