Study shows frustration at saturated fat info gap

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumers in the UK have a low level of differentiation between
saturated and unsaturated fat, and are frustrated at the lack of
clear front-of-pack information on food products, a FSA study has

The UK's Food Standards Agency is in the process of developing a saturated fat and energy intake programme to address excess levels of them in diets and help consumers balance their energy sources. It launched a consultation on its draft programme in March. To help improve its understanding of consumer awareness of fats and their role in public health issues and diets it commissioned a piece of qualitative research. This also set out to examine what influences food choices and what measures might motivate and enable consumers to chose a diet lower in fat. The research was conducted in two phases. The first involved 37 interviews, including 19 accompanied shopping trips and 18 kitchen explorations, as well as the completion of one-day food diaries. The second involved 96 consumers in 16 home-friendship groups, with 10 to 20 minute follow up phone calls. Amongst the key findings was the observation that most consumers were not making an automatic distinction between fat and saturated fat in their diet - although there was some awareness of some fats being 'good', like olive oil, and others 'bad', such as lard, ghee or hydrogenated fat. Moreover, many consumers could not identify 'hidden' sources of saturated fat in their diet, either in processed foods or in butter and cheese. While some consumers shopped for foods that were 'low in fat', few looked for foods that were 'low in saturated fat'. Those that did check packs for saturated fat info tended to look at the back of packs, believing this was where they would find most accurate and reliable information. They were reportedly frustrated that it was not easier and quicker to find the information they were looking for. And less informed consumers tended to take pack names and nutrition and health claims at face value, if they looked at all. "These consumers often became angry during the course of research when they realised that these claims can sometimes mislead in terms of level of saturated fat,"​ wrote the researchers. "Given this context, there were frequent spontaneous requests across the sample for a consistent, simple, straightforward, easy to read front of pack labelling system that consumers can use to identify rough levels of saturated fat (and other constituents) at a glance, and considerable frustration that this was not already in existence,"​ they added. Saturated fat consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids - that is, fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fat tends to be more solid at room temperature, and a diet high in saturated fat has been repeatedly linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. At present it is thought that UK consumers have too much saturated fat in their diets. The FSA estimates that a reduction in average saturated fat intakes from the current level of 13.3 per cent to the recommended 11 per cent of food energy would avert around 3,500 deaths in the UK each year, or save around £2.4 bn in health care costs. While consumers rejected a 'nanny state', at the same time they felt the government should be regulating foods with a proven negative effect on health. They thought the government should be providing inspiration, information and support to consumers directly, through intermediaries and via the food industry. In the absence of agreement from the food industry as to the best way forward on healthy eating and saturated fat, they said the government "should regulate if it is in the best interests of the consumer".​ In terms of consumer awareness programmes, the 5-a-day fruit and veg programme was found to be "very strong"."Consumers wondered whether this campaign could be extended and serve as an umbrella theme across a broader 'balance of good health' programme within which communication about reduction of excess saturated fat would be one component,"​ researchers said.

Related topics: Market Trends, Fats & oils

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