Latest research from Mintel Consumer Intelligence into eating habits finds today’s Americans believing in the healthy diet option. Snacking and fast food appear low on the average American’s agenda and around half of Americans claim to work hard at eating a well-balanced diet.  But are we practicing what we preach? Expanding waistlines and the booming snacks market shows there is a distinct dichotomy between how Americans feel about healthy eating and what they do in practice. On the whole, women show the greatest interest in their diet intake – while US men could learn a lesson or two from their counterparts.

Mintel’s exclusive consumer research questioning 1,014 adults finds just 14% of Americans admit to having a diet which mainly consists of convenience and fast food, around the same proportion (17%) can’t help snacking on salty snacks such as chips.  In terms of gender, men are most likely to be junk food culprits with 17% largely snacking on convenience and fast food, compared to just 11% of women.  Those in the South are around twice as likely as those in any other region (21%) to have convenience and junk food as their staple diet.  In terms of race, America’s black population shows the greatest junk food tendencies (22 %), they also find salty snacks and chips the hardest to resist.  Not surprisingly, adults with a high school education or less are key junk food addicts.

By way of contrast, sales for salty snacks racked up an estimated $19 billion in 2000. The market has shown healthy growth of some 17% over the period 1995-2000.  It would appear that there is a definite contradiction between what Americans feel about healthy eating and how they actually eat.

“For the most part, snack food manufacturers maintain that their products, like so many others with a high fat and salt content, can be part of a healthy diet, if consumed in moderation. At the same time, with advertising tag lines such as ‘Bet you can’t eat just one,’ snack food manufacturers are presenting Americans with a product that satisfies their desire for a rich-tasting, salty eating experience. The result is that Americans consume a large volume of potato chips, corn snacks, pretzels and other salty snacks,” comments Amanda White, Consumer Goods Consultant.

Time is of the essence for today’s Americans.  A staggering 71% of the representative sample of American adults agree there’s never enough time in the day to get through the things they need to do – this rises to over 80% of those age between 26 and 34.  About one half agree strongly that lack of time does not appear to be a significant reason behind not eating well.  Less than a quarter (23%) of consumers agree they don’t have time to prepare and eat healthy meals and twice that proportion (48 %) disagree they don’t have time to cook a healthy meal.

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Just as men are more likely to be junk food addicts, they are also a little less likely to agree they work hard at eating a well balanced diet.  On a positive note, around half of Americans claim to work hard on eating well.  Just a third of the apparently carefree 18-24 year olds work hard on achieving a healthy diet – while the focus on eating healthily increases broadly with age. In terms of race, black Americans are the most conscientious with their diet – with almost 60% working hard at eating a well balanced diet compared to less than 50% of white Americans.  This is clearly at odds with their reliance on convenience foods and indulgence on chips.

For the vast majority of Americans, fad diets hold little interest. Overall, just 8% of American adults surveyed say they’ll try any fad diet they think might work.  By race, the Hispanics are the most susceptible to these fads, with almost 18% saying they would try any fad diet within reason.

“More Americans are aware of the nation’s expanding girth and many truly want to do something about it. But a certain ‘nutritional fatigue’ has set in. Having been bombarded with messages about what’s good and what’s bad, what’s healthy and what’s not, many adults have simply given up and replaced their yo-yo dieting with a ‘trade off’ mentality about food. They will eat salty snacks at snack time but give up butter on their mashed potatoes at meal time. They will eat potato chips at a party but skip lunch,” comments Amanda White.

Established in 1972, Mintel incorporates Mintel Consumer Intelligence, Global New Products Database (gnpd), and Mintel consultancy.  Mintel is an independent company which operates offices in Chicago, London, Frankfurt, and Sydney.  For more information on Mintel Consumer Intelligence, please visit our website at