28% of Americans Can Easily Access Healthy Foods

Why it can be so hard to find affordable, healthy food.

You may be like many Americans who seek out healthy options at the grocery store for their family, only to have difficulty finding the items that will be healthiest.

If all of that sounds familiar, you’re in good company. A new survey reveals that the vast majority of Americans want to eat healthy, but many find it difficult to access the most nutritious options.

A report from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation and the American Heart Association found that 95 percent of shoppers in the United States say they always or sometimes seek healthy food options.

While the overwhelming majority want the best foods, only 28 percent say it’s easy to find these products, and 11 percent report it’s just too difficult to track them down at all.

What shoppers want

This stark disparity between a willingness to eat healthy and having the access to do so is certainly frustrating for consumers, said Cheryl Anderson, PhD, MPH, MS, associate professor of preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and a science volunteer and chair of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association.

“I think it’s [the disparity] not totally surprising given the trends that we see in recent years,” Anderson told schoenmed. “It clearly illustrated that consumers are wanting healthful products. I think shedding light on this is really important.”

Anderson added that it can give food companies more information about what consumers want.

“Consumers are saying, ‘Hey, this is important to me,’” Anderson told schoenmed.

The findings came from an online survey of 1,017 adults in the United States between the ages of 18 to 80 who have the sole or shared responsibility of overseeing their household grocery shopping, according to IFIC’s press release.

Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, said a lot of misinformation that’s circulated about the food we buy could lead to this gap between what we want to eat and what we end up finding in stores.

“There is a lot of conflicting information about what constitutes a healthy food. Front-label packaging on foods often misleads consumers into believing that a food is healthier than it is. For example, many children’s cereals will say ‘good source of vitamin D.’ However, it might have a lot of sugar and not much fiber in the cereal. That is misleading the consumer to believe this cereal will provide an added benefit when they could easily get the vitamin D from a supplemental pill, drops, or milk or non-dairy product,” Hunnes, who wasn’t affiliated with the new report, told schoenmed.

‘Healthy’ buzzwords

Hunnes said that consumers today receive a “constant barrage” of information in the media that attest to “fad diets.” This can make a consumer’s head spin. What actually is healthy?

“Right now, ‘keto’ seems to be the buzzword, so people will believe that only ‘keto-approved’ foods are healthy,” she added. “So, I think in many cases, misleading packaging, advertisements, news stories, pop culture, et cetera make it difficult for people to truly know what the ‘healthy’ option is once they are standing in front of a row of foods at the grocery store.”

Caitlin Terpstra, RDN, LD, a nutritionist at Mayo Clinic, echoed Hunnes’s thoughts. She said when people head to their grocery stores, they can be overwhelmed by signs.

A single store may have a “health section” or signs that say “dietitian approved” and “superfoods,” among others.

“How is a consumer to know what all these messages and health claims mean?” Terpstra, who is also not affiliated with the survey, told Healthline. “Especially when a consumer only has a limited time to get their groceries trying to decode these messages is not realistic.”

Terpstra also pointed out that cost can be an issue for many consumers looking for healthy foods.

“Another barrier is often consumers believe ‘fresh’ is the only option, and during certain seasons, fresh is not financially possible for many people due to produce not being in season,” Terpstra said. “Barriers to accessing healthy foods include: lack of transportation, finances, time in regards to store hours, weather, and food deserts and availability of nutrient-dense foods within a reasonable proximity.”