Wealthier Americans know less than they think about food

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EAST LANSING, Mich.—While socioeconomics play a significant role in Americans’ opinions about food safety and in their purchasing decisions, higher income doesn’t always correlate with informed choices.

The latest Food Literacy and Engagement Poll from Michigan State University’s Food@MSU initiative found that affluent Americans tend to overestimate their knowledge about health and nutrition.

Forty-nine percent of participants in households earning at least $50,000 annually said they believe they know more than the average person about global food systems, while 28 percent of those earning less were not that confident. But when surveyed on a variety of food topics, affluent participants fared no better, and at times worse, than their lower-earning peers.

Eighty-five percent of lower-income respondents were familiar with the term “genetically modified ingredients,” compared to 93 percent of higher earners. Despite a comprehensive 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluding that GMO crops are as safe to consume as non-GMO crops, 43 percent of those with high incomes and 26 percent of lower earners reported that they avoid purchasing them.

“We suspect affluent Americans are more likely to encounter unsubstantiated information—online, among friends and family, and at farmers’ markets and pricier upscale grocery stores—that raise unfounded concerns about this widely used technology,” researchers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Dr. Douglas Buhler noted in a summary published on The Conversation and later by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The result, they said, “is a persistent perception that certain ‘organic’ or non-GMO products are somehow healthier, which is unsupported by research. This attitude puts pressure on some consumers to pay more for produce with these labels or suffer from feelings of guilt or shame if they cannot afford to provide pricier items for their families.”

Kirshenbaum is executive director of Science Debate, a nonprofit organization that works to improve communication between scientists, policymakers and the public. Buhler is MSU assistant vice president of research and graduate studies. They said their findings “show the need for food experts and health professionals to work with social scientists to understand ways in which different communities make decisions about food.”

Their complete remarks on the poll findings are available at theconversation.com/wealthy-americans-know-less-than-they-think-they-do-about-food-and-nutrition-94796.

Media: Contact Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.

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