February 17, 2012
WASHINGTONRecognizing consumers calorie disconnect in past Food & Health surveys, International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) convened the Expert Roundtable on Energy and Calorie Balance to engage in a critical analysis of challenges and experiences in communicating the calorie balance equation to consumers and create an action plan for an environment where similar calorie balance messages could be effectively delivered to and adopted by consumers.
The rationale for the IFIC Expert Roundtable on Energy and Calorie Balance was grounded in the experience that expert evaluation and discussion serve to clarify needs; provide direction for future action; reduce duplication; enhance efficiencies and effectiveness; strengthen collaborations among stakeholders; and maximize synergies to implement strategic frameworks and programs that result in quick wins" for consumers. In addition to nutrition and/or physical activity, the experts had experience with program development and implementation, making them well-equipped to provide practical advice on facilitating behavioral change toward achieving calorie balance.
IFIC initiated a plan-of-action to build on the outcomes from the Expert Roundtable discussion, including engaging in consumer message-testing research as a member of the Dietary Guidelines Alliance in 2010 and broadening of the dialogue with additional groups in 2011.
Two key concepts were identified by the experts and have the potential to create unique opportunities for promoting healthful eating and physical activity behaviors among consumers:
Concept 1. Healthier lifestyles will become the norm when consumers demand cultural changes toward that reality and society responds to address those demands. It is essential that the public drive this movement in order for real change to occur. The current environment, where information on the calorie balance message is passively received, is not working.
Concept 2. A 360-degree communications approach, where consistent and coordinated messages on the calorie balance concept come from multiple sources at multiple touch points, will improve the breadth and depth of reach into the places where consumers live, work, and play.
The Expert Roundtable participants provided other insights that could help develop best practices for communicating the calorie balance equation by various stakeholders, including:
Calorie balance communication should be individualized, including messaging, delivery, and goal setting for individuals. Three related perspectives shed light on the necessity of individualizationNutrition research demonstrates that nutritional needs vary among individuals; behavioral research demonstrates that consumers respond more effectively to approaches that respect individuality; and consumer research illustrates a preference for individualized messages and strategies.
Multiple sectors must engage consumers at every point where food and physical activity decisions are made where they live, work and play.
Consumers want messages to be positive, short, simple, easy-to-follow, fun, and focused on foodnot nutrients.
Motivating consumers toward dietary and activity behavior changes requires connecting the action to issues that are valuable to the individual, even if they are not related to health, such as family time or the environment.
Make the most of the powerful influence of role models. The parent is the most influential role model for young children; however, the peer influencer becomes increasingly important around the age of 13 years..
Behavior change is complex. Future communications should consider the need to move the target audience through the stages of behavior change, message repetition and social influences.
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