A recent survey by the Pew Research Center asked Americans about their opinions regarding the science behind food and health recommendations and their findings are quite interesting. We know that the U.S. public is constantly exposed to nutrition news stories with approximately 66% of Americans hearing about or reading articles related to health and food every single day. However, about half of the population feels that many studies contradict prior reports some of the time – and 21% say this happens all the time. Scientists are concerned that this “whiplash effect” may confuse U.S. adults and influence how much they trust scientific findings.
Surprisingly, 61% of Americans say “new research is constantly improving our understanding about the health effects of what people eat and drink, so it makes sense that these finding conflict with prior studies” and 37% say “research about the health effects of what people eat and drink cannot really be trusted because so many studies conflict with each other.” That means there’s hope! Much of the U.S. public sees conflicting studies as a sign of evolving science.
So, who is more likely to view conflicting studies as a positive? Generally, those who have high knowledge of science (about 74% of them) believe contradictory studies are a sign of improving research. However, those with low science knowledge are divided – almost 50/50 – between the “improving research” and “not to be trusted” camps.
Most Americans (72%) agree that “the core ideas about how to eat healthy are pretty well understood” despite sometimes conflicting research. A quarter of U.S. adults feel overwhelmed by the inconsistency and have trouble determining what it means to eat healthy. Once again, these beliefs are linked to one’s science knowledge. 92% of those with a higher understanding of science and 78% of those with a medium level of understanding, say the core ideas of healthy eating are well understood. However, those with lower levels of science knowledge are split – again, almost 50/50 – between the “well understood” and “difficult to know how to eat healthy” camps. Naturally, Americans with less science education are more distrustful of contradictory research.
While we certainly need to work harder to make complex scientific findings easier to understand, the good news is that most Americans see progress in food and nutrition research and recognize that the core ideas of healthy eating are already well understood. Now, all we have to do is follow it….
Post by Tina Gowin Carlucci, RDN