Food for Thought
Purdue researchers weigh in on consumer behavior and health

Wayne Campbell

Wayne Campbell (Photo by Mark Simons)

Providing the science behind healthy eating

Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science, has focused his research on understanding how protein nutrition and exercise influence adult health as people age. He currently is serving on the U.S. government committee that is reviewing and advising on setting the nation's dietary recommendation, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. The guidelines are revised every five years based on the latest scientific data.

"The guidelines reflect the best science at the time for recommending a healthy diet for the American population," Campbell says. "It is a basic framework for recommendations that have evolved over time as science has improved. The committee takes into account the food environment today and bases its assessment on the most rigorous
science available."

The dietary guidelines were first established in 1980. Since that time the food environment has changed remarkably, Campbell says.

"The scientific openness of the dietary guideline process now is unparalleled in the history of its development," he says. "The recommendations today are clearly based on science, and when followed regularly, promote good health."

The challenge, he says, is getting people to follow recommendations.

"The greater availability of good information and the ability to effectively communicate what it means is a challenge," Campbell says. "The successful ways to help people consume a healthy diet and to get enough exercise aren't currently being achieved."

The committee's report to the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture is due by the end of 2014.

"The committee serves strictly in an advisory role to provide the best scientific evidence for those in government who set policies," Campbell says.

Social aspects of food consumption

Miao has found that consumer behavior when it comes to eating in restaurants goes beyond calorie counts. Policymakers, restaurant operators and consumers need to be aware of the "murky relationships between food knowledge and food choices," she says.

"Food is one of the most fundamental human needs and food consumption is social as well," Miao says. "A great example is that a bottle of wine consumed at home costs significantly less than in a restaurant or bar, but people are willing to pay extra for the social experience."

Like Campbell, Miao says exposure to useful information is a great start but there are many other challenges.
"The desire for indulgence in food often competes with the desire to eat healthfully," Miao says. "Resolving the conflict between wanting to be healthy and wanting to satisfy one's appetite in favor of the long-term health goal is often difficult and cognitively taxing."

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