The Dairy Council of California says consumers make food choices based on factors beyond nutrition. For example, they seek whole and unprocessed foods. Consumers also are getting health and nutrition information from various sources. Therefore, the dairy industry must use new communication channels to reach health professionals.
These are two of the trends the council identified in its semi-annual trends newsletter. The Sacramento-based dairy association identifies and tracks issues and then makes plans to redirect threats and accelerate opportunities in its role as a nutrition educator. The following is an edited version of the council’s Fall 2014 Trends report. (To subscribe, contact Kendall House at KHouse@DairyCouncilofCA.org.)
Focus on the total mix of nutrients
While nutritional research has traditionally focused on the health effects of individual nutrients, researchers are recognizing that it is the full package of nutrients and components in foods that works in unison toward health and disease prevention.
Dairy is a perfect example of a food with a complete package of nutrients impossible to tease apart. Studies show an association between higher consumption of dairy foods and lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Dairy foods with probiotics are linked to a stronger immune system, intestinal health, blood sugar control and weight management.
Many consumers are already seeking out whole, unprocessed foods, and there is an opportunity for additional messaging around the benefits of these foods.
How consumers make food choices
There are multiple considerations that drive consumer food choices, and nutritional benefits are not always front of mind. Rather, environmental concerns and production practices are playing larger roles in food decisions, as shown by the increasing popularity of foods labeled as organic, natural, GMO-free, hormone-free and antibiotic-free.
Concerns over sustainability and the environment are driving many people to plant-based diets. The plant-based movement is impacting the dairy industry as milk alternatives — soy, almond, rice and other plant-based beverages — are gaining market share. These alternatives do not come close to providing the package of nutrients that dairy milk provides.
People need to feel good about the foods they buy and consume. Accurate and complete information about how the food industry produces and processes foods is important to help consumers make informed choices. The food industry can enhance transparency by providing information to consumers through labeling and company websites.
Changes in health care
With changes in the health care environment, there has been an increase in health education offered by public health nurses, physician’s assistants, social workers, health coaches, community health workers and promotores (lay members in Hispanic/Latino communities). Some of these providers are equipped to meet consumers “where they are”— in their homes, schools, workplaces and communities. Achieving behavior change toward healthier lifestyles is often successful due to a high trust factor between these new providers and their patients.
In this new arena, the focus is on preventing rather than treating diseases. Preventing chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease will save billions of health care dollars in treatment. Nutrition education has a valuable place in this new environment because a healthy diet throughout life can ward off diseases and keep people healthy longer.
Technology is playing a big role in the way health education is delivered. Health professionals are embracing new technology such as mobile devices to store and retrieve information on large populations in order to help treat individual patients. Genetic information is being collected that will help create personalized and effective treatments.
Personalization is an expectation
As people have increased access to more powerful technology, the need and demand for individualized services is greater. From shopping to dining to health care, people know what they want and how, when and where they want it. Social media and phone and computer apps are connecting consumers — even low-income subgroups — to the information they desire without going through a middleman. Technology is also helping consumers better track their diets and activity through smartphones, wearable monitors and mobile apps.
The move toward personalization will make public health and nutrition recommendations such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans less useful for people who are seeking highly specific advice that meets their preferences, disease risks, health goals, cultures, traditions and lifestyles. Public health recommendations will need to be positioned as a starting point that can be individualized to meet specific needs.
Dairy Council of California, through interactive tools such as Healthy Eating My Way, helps consumers of all ages individualize nutrition messages that are meaningful and motivating and that lead to successful behavior change.