The potential impact of the Health Check™ on diet quality of food away from home purchases
Consumption of food away from home (FAFH) is widely believed to be a contributing factor to the current obesity crisis and other diet related problems in North America. Although FAFH expenditure represents a lower proportion of food expenditure in Canada than in the United States (24% versus 50%) it is still a significant part of Canadian diets. The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation has developed a third party accreditation program to identify healthy food items in grocery stores and more recently, restaurants, called the Health Check™ program. The program is not without controversy since some people feel that it is inappropriate to pay for the use of the label and it may be misleading that many processors and restaurants choose not to apply for their food products resulting, in some cases, that healthier foods without such a label may be next to other products with labels on shelves or on menus. For such a diet indicator to be helpful in enhancing public health the label must be used by people who have health problems and buy the food products labeled. The objective of this research is to examine the possible impact of the Health Check™ program for a particular group of Canadian FAFH consumers. Through the use of the NPD Group CREST® data over the period February 2007 to February 2009, actual restaurant purchases for a representative panel of Canadians were identified. In August 2009 a survey of 3319 of those same panelists was conducted. As part of the survey, respondents were asked for stated preferences for a turkey sandwich with various different nutrition labels and the Health Check™. The results suggest that there is on average a positive WTP for the provision of additional nutritional information associated with turkey sandwiches and for the Health Check™. The results highlight the importance of providing fat content information, in terms of attracting the attention of the survey respondents to the nutrient content. There is little link between survey respondents level of historical diet quality and their willingness to pay for the Health Check™ information in their sandwich purchases; unfortunately this suggests that the Health Check™ might not have its biggest impact on those that need it the most. For those with the highest historical diet quality the provision of nutrient information and/or the Health Check™ has little appeal, perhaps reflecting their higher existing nutritional engagement – do they actually need more information?
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