Female Baby Boomers' Perceptions of Dairy Foods and How Their Perceptions Influence Dairy Food Choices
Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that afflicts an estimated 25 million Americans, especially women. Suboptimal intakes of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D contribute to development of osteoporosis. Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) indicate that adult women do not meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium. Results from other national studies indicate that adult women consume less than the recommended number of servings of dairy foods per day. Focus groups were conducted in rural and urban areas of Virginia to gain insight into middle aged women's perceptions of dairy foods.
Four focus groups were conducted with a total of 39 women. The majority of the women were between the ages of 35 to 50 years; all were non-Hispanic white women. All had a minimum of a high school education, and the majority had some education beyond high school. Discussion questions addressed preferences for dairy foods, advantages and disadvantages of dairy foods, factors that influence dairy food choices, and possibilities for product improvements. Focus group discussions were audio taped and transcribed by the moderator. The moderator identified major and minor themes; women's responses were organized thematically. Results were reported in the following broad theme categories: perceptions of health and nutrition that influenced dairy food choices and factors that influenced dairy food choices.
The predominant negative perception of dairy foods was that dairy foods were high in fat. Women also negatively associated dairy foods with lactose intolerance and kidney stones. The predominant positive perception of dairy foods was that dairy foods were a good source of calcium. Women also believed dairy foods were a good source of vitamins, although they were unsure of specific vitamins found in dairy foods. Participants were aware of osteoporosis, but many were not knowledgeable about risk factors or prevention related to osteoporosis. Many women used calcium supplements or vitamin-mineral supplements to help meet dietary calcium requirements. Results indicate a need for education on the role of dairy foods in osteoporosis prevention.
Women's preferences for dairy foods influenced dairy food choices. Product characteristics, such as sensory attributes, convenience, cost, availability, and packaging, were mentioned as factors that greatly influenced dairy food choices. The majority of women stated that other household members influenced dairy food choices. Women also mentioned that physicians and media sources, such as magazine advertisements and television commercials, influenced their dairy food choices. Nutrition education for this population should continue to promote the view that "all foods can fit" into a healthy eating pattern. Nutrition education should be geared toward the fast paced lifestyle these women lead. Product development should focus on convenience items.