January 9, 2006
Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, is part of a group of interrelated conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, poor nutrition, genetic predisposition and sedentary lifestyle. Heart disease and stroke, components of cardiovascular disease (CVD), account for about 40 percent of deaths in the United Statesapproximately one death every 34 seconds. The cost of cardiovascular disease is upwards of $400 billion dollars, including health care costs and lost productivity. But if heart disease is controllable and preventable, why is it so prevalent?
Recent consumer studies conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) have shown 31% of the U.S. population indicates they are currently managing heart disease, high cholesterol and/or or high blood pressure (this group is referred to as Heart Managers throughout this article). While about a third are currently managing some form of heart-related condition, over half (53%) of the general population are very concerned about preventing cardiovascular issues. So, what exactly are consumers doing to treat this disease and are they taking the proper steps to prevent it?
Food & diet: General population
The good news is that many of the factors that contribute to the development of CVD can be controlled through diet. Grocery store shelves are well stocked with fortified, functional and other healthoriented foods; and foods with less sugar, salt, fat and additives.These foods can be considered pro-cardiovascular. This trend is indicative of a growing number of consumers realizing the connection between diet and health, and seeking a healthier lifestyle through the foods they buy for themselves and their family.
In fact, about three out of five American consumers indicate they would use foods and beverages to prevent obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. Slightly fewer, about half, would use foods to treat these same conditions. Since 2000, consumers use of functional foods, those that treat/manage a specific condition, has risen 34% and fortified food use has risen 14%. In addition, a majority of consumers are purchasing food with less fat (76%), less sugar (71%), less sodium (64%) and fewer carbohydrates (60%) to fend off the food-related culprits that contribute to obesity, high cholesterol and constricted arteriesall precursors to heart disease.Therefore, todays consumers find themselves in a balancing act regarding nutrition. While many are trying to avoid foods that contribute to disease conditions, consumers are also taking care to add nutrient-rich foods for more optimal health. Sixty-nine percent of consumers have avoided foods this year to eat healthier and 70% have added foods, both behaviors exhibiting a six percent increase since 2002.
But challenges still exist and appear to have become more prevalent among the population recently. Half are not willing to give up taste for health (52%), up 8% since 2004. More consumers are also admitting they know they should eat healthier but dont.
Food & diet: Heart managers
While the rest of the population reveals some understandable struggles, Heart Managers appear to be more active in their search for health. More Heart Managers than Non-Managers sustain a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a balanced diet and consuming functional foods and beverages.They are also more likely to be trying to maintain this healthy lifestyle in order to both prevent and treat health issues, to get proper nutrition and to manage stress.
However, while Heart Managers are making a strong effort to:
try to eat heart healthy foods (72%),
change their diet to lower cholesterol (67%),
limit the amount of trans-fats in their diet (55%),
and seek out foods that are high in fiber (49%),
...almost nine out of 10 still admit it is a challenge to eat right.
Some of their challenges may be due to a lack of understanding about heart healthy foods and ingredients. While Heart Managers are more likely than Non-Managers to check for heart-related components on food and beverage labels, at least half dont check labels for cholesterol, fat, sodium, fiber or trans fats. Although theyve shown increases in their consumption of soy foods over the past year, Heart Managers usage of soy foods and beverages remains rather low, with only one out of five having ever used soy foods or beverages. About two-thirds do not even know what the benefits of soy are, with over two-thirds of Heart Managers not associating the benefits of garlic, omega-3s, fish oil, whole grains, fiber and soy with heart health. This highlights obvious opportunities for stronger educational platforms across many products and ingredients.
Supplementation: General population
Some factors such as obesity, poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive drinking and stress can deplete the nutrients needed to help stave off heart-related conditions. When diet isnt enough, or consumers lack the knowledge of which nutrient-rich foods to consume, supplementation may provide a solution.
A third of all consumers (34%) are using vitamins/minerals/herbal supplements (VMHS) to prevent a medical condition, and slightly fewer (31%) are using supplements to treat a medical condition. The top conditions that VMHS are being used to prevent are osteoporosis (17%), arthritis (15%), heart disease (15%) and high cholesterol (12%). Men, compared to women, and supplement users over 50 years old are more likely to be taking VMHS to prevent heart disease and hypertension. Based on the number of consumers who are trying to prevent a medical condition with supplements, fish oil and vitamin E are the supplements used the most to prevent heart disease and high cholesterol. Multi-vitamins/minerals and antioxidants are also used by almost a third of supplement users as a preventive measure against heart-related conditions.
Most likely due to the seriousness of heart-related conditions, fewer consumers use supplements to actually treat cardio-related issues. Less than one out of 10 are using supplements for the treatment of heart disease or high cholesterol and less than one out of 20 are using supplements to treat hypertension.
Supplementation: Heart managers
Approximately three-quarters of Heart Managers feel vitamins and minerals are a vital part of staying healthy. Its understandable, then, that Heart Managers are 40% more likely to take supplements to prevent a health issue, and 39% more likely to take them to treat a health issue.
This increased usage may also be related to nutrient depletion fears. Heart Managers are 13% more concerned (than the general population) about nutrients being depleted from their body when they are taking prescription medicines. Since Heart Managers are more likely to be taking some type of pharmaceutical treatment, it is not surprising they are more likely to feel deficient in nutrients known to be beneficial to the heart, such as soy protein, soy isoflavones, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E, potassium and magnesium.
Conversely, while almost half of Heart Managers would use supplements to both treat and prevent specific heart related conditions, a third of Heart Managers readily admit to not knowing enough about VMHS to know what they should be taking. Perhaps it is understandable then that a majority have discussed supplement use with their doctors, which is 37% higher than the general population. An opportunity exists, however, with three-quarters of Heart Managers stating they would like their doctor to provide information and guidance on what supplements they should use.
In summary, heart-related conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are among the fastest growing health conditions among men and women.
While Heart Managers are making a greater effort to take control of their health, their behaviors fall short in many areas. The opportunities for increased heart-healthy food choices and heart-specific labeling are apparent, while the need for continued education and physician guidance on heart nutrition is clearly evident.
Steve French is managing partner at The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a leading consultancy and research firm specializing in health and wellness. With 25 years of experience across many disciplines, French has pioneered a range of consumer databases, is a frequent speaker at many industry events, and is a published author and contributor to many U.S. and international media sources.
The data sources in this article are from NMIs Health & Wellness Trends Database (HWTD), an annual research study of 2,000+ U.S. general population consumers with seven years of trends, and NMIs Dietary Supplement Consumer Insight Database (DSCID). Both studies are nationally projectable and have a margin of error of +/-2%.
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