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Consumers Recognize Importance of Supplements, Need Encouragement to Take Omega-3s

Recent research shows consumers know supplements can help fill nutrient gaps, but a disconnect exists between perception and reality when it comes to Americans’ understanding of health and nutrition. And while Europe recently upped its omega-3 intake, the United States could use more spurring on to take their heart-healthy omegas.

Recent research shows consumers know supplements can help fill nutrient gaps, but a disconnect exists between perception and reality when it comes to Americans’ understanding of health and nutrition. And while Europe recently upped its omega-3 intake, the United States could use more spurring on to take their heart-healthy omegas.

The vast majority of consumers recognize multivitamins, calcium and/or vitamin D supplements can help fill nutrient gaps, but they should not be viewed as replacements for a healthy diet, according to a new survey conducted on behalf of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). The survey asked 2,159 U.S. adults key questions to measure consumer attitudes toward the role of multivitamins, calcium and/or vitamin D supplements for improving dietary intakes. Nearly 90 percent of respondents (88 percent) agreed that calcium and vitamin D supplements can help support bone health when dietary intake is not sufficient, and 87 percent reported that multivitamin and mineral supplements can help meet nutrient needs when people don’t get enough from food alone. Responses indicated consumers hold balanced perspectives about the role supplementation plays in overall health, with 80 percent in agreement that multivitamins should not replace healthy eating or lifestyle habits and 81 percent concluding that multivitamins should be considered as just one part of a healthy diet. The importance of having an open dialogue with doctors was also recognized, with 82 percent in agreement that people considering taking a high dose, single-nutrient supplement should talk with their physician.        

Another recent survey determined a disconnect exists between perception and reality in Americans’ understanding of health and nutrition. The survey, conducted by DSM, showed consumers are overly confident about diet and essential nutrient intake; however, the reality of their personal health indicates otherwise. Of the 3,000 American consumers surveyed, more than half want to improve their overall nutrition and wellness, they but do not know where to start. The same number (51 percent) are confused about the science behind nutrition recommendations. And while research shows only 10 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of essential nutrients, 57 percent believe they do. In addition to the survey, DSM hosted a consumer focus group and roundtable discussion where participants discussed the challenges of maintaining adequate nutrition, as well as the role essential nutrients and supplementation play in filling nutritional gaps. Findings showed varied awareness of essential nutrients and the impact they have on health, including:

•      Most consumers are familiar with vitamins D and E (92 and 83 percent, respectively), while only about half are familiar with DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. Fewer still are familiar with lutein (29 percent) and zeaxanthin (6 percent).

•      Only 10 percent are aware that zeaxanthin can support optimal vision health; only 9 percent know that lutein may support brain health.

•      One-fourth of consumers are unsure of how vitamin D supports bodily function, despite high familiarity.

Based on the survey and focus group, DSM plans to work with experts to develop tools, such as a guide to decipher credible scientific studies, to help consumers understand ways to achieve optimal nutrition.

A separate study by DSM showed the number of people using omega-3 supplements has increased in certain European countries. The 2015 Global Consumer Usage & Attitude Study surveyed 11,000 shoppers across ten global markets, and the results showed omega-3 use has increased by 4 percent in the UK and Germany and 8 percent in Russia since a similar large-scale survey was conducted by DSM in 2012. As part of the study, in-depth interviews were conducted with both existing and lapsed omega-3 users in the UK, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, China, South Korea and Australia. The country with the highest proportion of users is Australia, where 38 percent of consumers regularly take omega-3 supplements. The study highlighted that motivations for purchasing omega-3 vary considerably depending on factors such as age, gender, geography and attitudes to health and wellbeing, and results demonstrated that a targeted approach must be taken to appeal to consumers in specific markets.

While European consumers have increased omega-3 usage, Americans may need more encouragement to take their heart-healthy omegas. Research recently conducted by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) found more than one-third of American adults have had a heart health scare, yet many have not made changes to their diets to better support their hearts. The study’s key findings include:

•    Following a heart health scare, more than half of survey respondents (66 percent) did not start taking heart-healthy nutritional supplements, such as omega-3s, and nearly half (46 percent) did not change their diets.

•    Seventy-seven percent of respondents didn't know low omega-3 levels can be harmful to health.

•    Forty-four percent of respondents were unaware that omega-3 intake can help lower blood pressure.

•    Ninety-two percent of respondents were unable to accurately identify good sources of omega-3s.

"Most people don't have the important information they need about omega-3s as it relates to heart, brain and eye health, as evidenced by this survey," said Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED. "This underscores the strong need for clear communication and education about the health benefits, nutritional value and sources of omega-3s."

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