What's Keeping You from Eating Healthy?

Barriers to healthy eating may include taste and knowledge of health benefits

(RxWiki News) Eating a healthy diet reduces the risk for many diseases, but its easier said than done. There are a number of barriers to healthy eating that can make it hard for people to meet the current US dietary recommendations.

A recent study identified taste and a lack of knowledge about health benefits as two of the barriers to healthy eating in a group of fifth graders and adult caregivers.

It was found that improving taste and increasing knowledge of health benefits would make it easier to consume healthy foods.

"Ask a nutritionist for tips on healthy eating."

This study was led by Theresa Nicklas, DrPH, in the Department of Pediatrics, US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provides diet and exercise recommendations that promote health and reduce the risk for major chronic diseases. Between 80 and 99 percent of the population do not get the DGA-recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and reduced-fat dairy products.

For this study, the research team set out to identify barriers to following the DGA recommendations for these four food groups, as well as to identify things that would make following these guidelines easier.

The study sample included 321 fifth-graders and 281 unrelated adult caregivers. Caregivers were considered to be those persons responsible for food preparation most days of the week. The participants were a part of the Healthy Eating and Lifestyle for Total Health (HEALTH) Study which was conducted from 2010-2012.

A total of 97 separate child and caregiver group sessions were held with participants. In the sessions, each participant was given a worksheet to list what things made it hard or easy to follow recommendations for eating fruits, vegetables, milk products and whole grains.

Each session focused on one of the four food groups. Participants then read their responses aloud and were asked to anonymously record the five responses that they felt were most relevant. A final list of the top responses was made, and participants ranked how important each one was to them.

For caregivers, the main barriers to meeting DGA recommendations for these food groups included cost, lack of meal preparation skills or recipes, difficulty in changing eating habits, taste and lack of knowledge of health benefits.

The caregivers noted that it would be easier to consume these foods if there were greater variety and accessibility (specifically for fruits and vegetables), lower costs and less preparation involved (e.g., ready to steam or pre-cut vegetables).

For children, the main barriers included competing foods (e.g., junk food), health issues (e.g., allergies or upset stomach), taste and forgetting to eat them.

The children noted that it would be easier to consume these foods if they were incorporated into other foods that they enjoyed, and if adults emphasized the health benefits of these foods.

As the study authors noted, by focusing on and addressing these barriers, intake of these foods can be increased, and individuals can begin to reap the health benefits that these foods provide.

This study is currently in press and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The research was funded by the US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service and Dairy Management Incorporated.

The authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
August 16, 2013