What consumers do (or don’t do) with knowledge

Last January, the British Food Journal published the first cross-country study that attempted to link the type of knowledge about fat in food and the predominance of obesity. It was conducted by Laure Saulais (Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Paul Bocuse, Ecully, France), Maurice Doyon, (Department of Agricultural Economics and Consumer Science, Université Laval Québec, Québec, Canada), Bernard Ruffieux, (Ecole Nationale Superieure de Genie Industriel, Grenoble, France) and Harry Kaiser, (Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA).

As usual, it was very interesting to read the authors’ abstract :

“The purpose of this paper is to compare knowledge about dietary fats in some dairy products and other foods across consumers from France, (French-speaking) Canada and the USA. A relation is explored between the types of information, knowledge levels and obesity predominance. A nine-question nutritional test was developed and administered to three samples of consumers, respectively in Grenoble (France), Quebec, Canada and Ithaca, New York. In France, Canada and the USA the number of participants was respectively 100, 107 and 120. Participants were recruited randomly outside groceries stores and the test was administered directly through one-on-one interviews. Results indicate a significant gap in knowledge between consumers from the three countries studied. The level and quality of knowledge seems to be correlated with the nature of the informational background: a wider availability of information such as nutrition facts and public health recommendations on fat consumption seems to have a positive effect on the general level of knowledge. However, “technical” knowledge seems to be inversely correlated to the level of obesity.”

Even if this study is an exploratory one and if the sample might not be representative of the countries’ population, it “gives weight to the hypothesis that a scientific approach to food might not result in an appropriate food choice” as concluded by the authors. Knowledge doesn’t mean positive action (a remark which, incidentally, applies in a lot of parent-child relationships).

I’m not sure that any comment is really needed in this case; it is the main purpose of this blog to give food for thought.

I will say that what might be interesting to explore more deeply is the link between knowledge and nutritional advice given by the media or doctors (with their own “translation” of nutritional facts). In the developed world, animal proteins rarely get appropriate treatment.