Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Consumer perception versus scientific evidence about health benefits and safety risks from fish consumption

Wim Verbekea1 c1, Isabelle Sioena2a3, Zuzanna Pieniaka1, John Van Campa2 and Stefaan De Henauwa3

a1 Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, B-9000 , Ghent, Belgium

a2 Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

a3 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Abstract

Objective To investigate the gap between consumer perception and scientific evidence related to health benefits and safety risks from fish consumption.

Design Consumer perceptions from a cross-sectional survey in March 2003 in Belgium were compared with scientific evidence based on a literature review.

Method A quota sampling procedure was used with age as quota control variable. Subjects completed a self-administered questionnaire including health benefit beliefs from fish, fish content and effect beliefs for nutrients and harmful substances.

Subjects Adults (n=429), who were the main person responsible for food purchasing in the household (284 women; 145 men), aged 18–83 years, from different regional, education, family size and income groups.

Results Fish is predominantly perceived as a healthy food that reduces risk for coronary heart disease, which corroborates scientific evidence. This perception is stronger among women than among men. In contrast with scientific evidence, 46% of the consumers believe that fish contains dietary fibre, whereas less than one-third is aware that fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and that this nutrient has a positive impact on human health. The gap between perception and evidence is larger among consumers with lower education. In general, consumers are better aware of the content and effect of harmful substances than of nutrients in fish.

Conclusions Despite conclusive evidence about the content and positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids in fish, related consumer awareness and beliefs are poor and often wrong. This study exemplifies the need for nutrition education and more effective communication about the health benefits of fish consumption.

(Received July 20 2004)

(Accepted September 08 2004)

Correspondence

c1 *Corresponding author: Email wim.verbeke@UGent.be

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