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Consumer knowledge about dietary fats: another French paradox?

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Purpose ‐ 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. Design/methodology/approach ‐ 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. Findings ‐ 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. Research limitations/implications ‐ This work is of an exploratory nature and the sample might not be representative of the countries' population. Further works that link food knowledge and food consumption patterns would be needed. Practical implications ‐ This study gives weight to the hypothesis that a "science" or nutrient approach to food might not result in appropriate food choices; consumers losing sight of the big picture. To confirm this hypothesis, further work would be needed. Originality/value ‐ This is, to the authors' knowledge, the first cross-country study that attempts to link the type of knowledge on fat in food and predominance of obesity. This should encourage nutritionist to further investigate this link. It should also concern the dairy industry, given most often consumers' perception of dairy products' fat content is overestimated, especially for fluid milk in France.
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Keywords: Canada; Consumer behaviour; Consumer knowledge; Dairy products; Dietary fat; Fats; France; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 20 January 2012

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