Consumers eat trans fats despite concerns, says study

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fats Food Nutrition Restaurant

American consumers continue to eat certain foods containing trans
fats despite being aware of the health dangers associated with
these, says a new report.

The research reveals that despite increased awareness, consumer behavior has remained relatively unchanged when it comes to the types of foods chosen at restaurants.

According to consumer researcher the NPD Group, this is because people remain unclear about which foods contain trans fats and whether restaurant foods contain more than foods at home.

Mounting evidence suggests that trans fats, formed during the manufacture of processed foods, raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, causing the arteries to become more rigid and clogged, and increasing the risk of heart disease.

And according to the new survey, 94 percent of American adults are aware of the presence of trans fats in the foods they consume, with 73 percent saying they are concerned about these. Women and baby boomers are the most concerned.

But awareness of trans fats and an ability to identify these in foods do not always come together, especially in items that are not labeled, such as foods consumed in restaurants.

"Although awareness and concern levels are high, many people still do not understand the basics of trans fats in foods,"​ said the NPD Group.

"Most consumers believe french fries and other fried foods are the primary culprits. Consumers are less aware of the trans fat content in baked goods, salty snacks, donuts, burgers and ice cream, which also contain significant amounts,"​ it added.

Of those people aware of trans fats, 65 percent believed that restaurant food was more likely to contain these than the food eaten at home.

But according to the report, while consumers with greater awareness of trans fats say they want to eat less of them at restaurants, there is no sign that those intentions are being carried out.

Sales of a number of the restaurant foods containing trans fats are growing, said NPD. These include fried chicken sandwiches (up 12 percent), crackers (up 10 percent) and cookies (up 7 percent).

"The restaurant industry is at a tipping point,"​ said Bonnie Riggs, foodservice industry expert, at The NPD Group.

"If public pressure requires restaurant operators to make nutritional information easily accessible, it could impact consumer purchasing of foods high in trans fats,"​ she added.

Indeed, according to Stephen Joseph, the Californian attorney who successfully sued both Kraft and McDonald's over their use of trans fats, future awareness activity in this field is to be focused on the foodservice sector.

"The packaged food industry has already had to deal with the consequences of labeling, and this has been very effective in guiding consumer choice in supermarkets,"​ he said.

But the trans fats avoided through packaged goods are being consumed at restaurants, where there is still no guidance, and through products such as baked goods, which are not labeled, he explained.

So a primary focus in Joseph's ongoing war is set to be the foodservice sector and the baked goods industry, where he aims to achieve "disclosure"​ of the presence of trans fats.

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