Consumer Communications Research Findings &
Create messages that will inspire
individuals to look for more information about healthy
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 household incomes.
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 healthy."
Focused on how effectively specific words
and statements conveyed potential Dietary Guidelines
recommendations (overall clarity and word
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
- 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 lifestyle.
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
- Be inclusive — respondents want to be able
to apply them to their individual lifestyles—and 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
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
- 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 trendy, diet.
Trust is important, and consumers (individuals) like to
be reassured of credibility.
- 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
- "These Dietary Guidelines are based on the
most up-to-date science available and come from the
leading health and nutrition experts in the country."
- "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 future."
The more the individual knows, the more choices they
- Communicate "choice" to speak to and
empower the individual:
- "'Choice' helps you to empower, personalize, and
- 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 choices—and finding what's right for you.
Keep it simple, but true to the science.
- Communicate simply, keeping in mind that
- Confused by conflicting health messages that revolve
- 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,
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Page last updated on October 24, 2008