British Journal of Nutrition

Review Article

A review of consumer awareness, understanding and use of food-based dietary guidelines

Kerry A. Browna1, Lada Timotijevica1, Julie Barnetta2, Richard Shepherda1, Liisa Lähteenmäkia3 and Monique M. Raatsa1 c1

a1 Psychology Department, Food Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK

a2 Department of Information Systems and Skills, Brunel University, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK

a3 MAPP Institute of Marketing and Statistics, Århus School of Business, Århus University, Haslegaardsvei 10, 8210 Århus V, Denmark


Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG) have primarily been designed for the consumer to encourage healthy, habitual food choices, decrease chronic disease risk and improve public health. However, minimal research has been conducted to evaluate whether FBDG are utilised by the public. The present review used a framework of three concepts, awareness, understanding and use, to summarise consumer evidence related to national FBDG and food guides. Searches of nine electronic databases, reference lists and Internet grey literature elicited 939 articles. Predetermined exclusion criteria selected twenty-eight studies for review. These consisted of qualitative, quantitative and mixed study designs, non-clinical participants, related to official FBDG for the general public, and involved measures of consumer awareness, understanding or use of FBDG. The three concepts of awareness, understanding and use were often discussed interchangeably. Nevertheless, a greater amount of evidence for consumer awareness and understanding was reported than consumer use of FBDG. The twenty-eight studies varied in terms of aim, design and method. Study quality also varied with raw qualitative data, and quantitative method details were often omitted. Thus, the reliability and validity of these review findings may be limited. Further research is required to evaluate the efficacy of FBDG as a public health promotion tool. If the purpose of FBDG is to evoke consumer behaviour change, then the framework of consumer awareness, understanding and use of FBDG may be useful to categorise consumer behaviour studies and complement the dietary survey and health outcome data in the process of FBDG evaluation and revision.

(Received April 22 2010)

(Revised December 01 2010)

(Accepted January 10 2011)

(Online publication March 09 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr M. M. Raats, fax +44 1483 682913, email


Abbreviations: CNCD, chronic non-communicable diseases; DGA, Dietary Guidelines for Americans; FBDG, food-based dietary guidelines; FGP, Food Guide Pyramid