Stress and hunger are obstacles to healthy diet

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Good intentions when it comes to a healthy food go out of the window if people are stressed or hungry, increasing demand for products that offer instant gratification, according to a new study from the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Health goals are likely to be overlooked as consumers are driven by more immediate visceral influences when they leave longer gaps between meals, eat away from home or work longer hours, the report concluded.

Poor diets and rising obesity rates among Americans have occurred concurrently with increased awareness and publicity regarding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, which is a seeming contradiction, according to the report; “Is Dietary Knowledge Enough? Hunger, Stress, and Other Roadblocks To Healthy Eating”​.

But it said by identifying elements that increase demand for goods and services offering more immediate gratification, consumers can be encouraged to take steps to mitigate it, such as eating nutrient-dense snacks.

It follows a recent analysis by Leatherhead Food International which said that satiety foods are growing in popularity in response to consumer interest in ideas such as “hunger management”.

The market researcher identified the ability of food to create feelings of fullness (satiation) and to delay the time in which hunger returns (satiety) as a key trend. And it said food manufacturers are moving away from traditional salt, sugar and fat reduction strategies built upon diet foods and dieting methods consumers were no longer interested in.

Roadblocks to healthy diet

The USDA study used data from its previous surveys to test a theoretical model of both long-term health objectives and short-term situational factors affecting food choices, which predicts that when individuals face intense visceral influences, such as hunger or stress, their information about health and nutrition will have a smaller impact.

It said: “When individuals extend the interval between meals or consume more of their food away from home, they are significantly more likely to consume more calories and more calories from solid fats, alcohol, and added sugars (discretionary calories) at each eating occasion.

“For example, going five hours between meals instead of four adds about 52 calories for someone on a diet of 2,000 calories per day; extending that interval from four to six hours would add about 91 calories to the meal. Going longer stretches between meals is also estimated to lower diet quality at each meal.”

Similarly the study suggests that people who work more hours in a week are also more influenced by the interval between meals than those who work fewer hours.

Where and when someone makes a choice about food also significantly affects what and how much is consumed.

The report concluded: “Making specific reference to such situations and suggesting ways to mitigate their effects should enhance the usefulness of educational campaigns designed to improve diet quality. For example, encouraging consumers to take more active control in limiting the interval between meals and choosing nutrient-dense snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, may help them better align their intentions to eat well with their actual behavior.

“Limiting intake of foods prepared away from home is also estimated to significantly decrease caloric consumption. Thus, another possibility would be to encourage individuals to plan ahead or seek out information about nutrient and caloric content of foods prepared away from home.”

Weight management

An estimated 25.6 percent of US adults reported being obese in 2007, compared to 23.9 percent in 2005 which is an increase of 1.7 percent, according to a study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report last month.

Experts say that efforts need to be made to reduce these figure and this provides opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers to position consumer products that address the obesity phenomenon.

The global weight management category is estimated at more than $7.4bn globally.

Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) revealed there were 42 satiety products launched in the first quarter of 2008, compared with just one in the first quarter of 2005.

Manufacturers of baked goods, for example, are increasingly looking to add fiber to their products due to the nutritional and health benefits linked to this, such as its promotion of digestive health and the immune system, as well as its ability to help manage hunger and therefore control weight.

In November Hydrocolloid supplier TIC Gums said it had developed a new gum blend that claims to allow bread manufacturers to add high levels of fiber to their products without affecting the bread's texture.

Ticaloid LC-SR6 is a blend of soluble and insoluble fibers, which the firm says can replace up to 20 percent of the flour in a formulation. At this level, manufacturers can add 6g of fiber to a 50g bread serving, said TIC Gums.

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