October 4, 2012
We are excited about the recent release of results from a national survey assessing awareness and impact of the growing Meatless Monday campaign. Not only has awareness of Meatless Monday been steadily increasing since it was founded in 2003, but the campaign is also positively influencing dietary behaviors. This year’s survey is the first in campaign history to evaluate the influence of Meatless Monday on the eating behaviors of consumers nationwide. The release comes just in time for the 2012 Food and Nutrition Conference (FNCE) in Philadelphia from Saturday through Tuesday, during which time dietitians and nutrition professionals from around the country will learn about the latest trends, research and products to help improve the nation’s health and advance the profession of dietetics. Using these new survey results, Meatless Monday hopes to mobilize more dietitians in support of this important initiative. (Meatless Monday will be at booth #1241 at the conference.)
The online survey, which is commissioned every year by the Mondays Campaigns and conducted through FGI Research, evaluated overall trends in meat consumption and the influence of Meatless Monday on dietary patterns among a sample of 1,005 American adults. You can read the full report of results here, but I’d like to just highlight a few key findings and offer some additional context and commentary on potential implications.
Trends in Meat Consumption
The survey found that 59 percent of respondents have cut back on their meat intake in the past year and 41 percent say they are actively trying to cut back now. These are pretty impressive numbers that support the recent trends of reduced meat consumption. While we are still eating more meat than nearly any other country, per capita meat intake in the United States has decreased by 12 percent in the last five years, according to USDA estimates. We can also compare these survey results to the NPR Health Poll on (red) meat consumption from March of this year, which showed that 39 percent of respondents reported eating less red meat than they did three years ago.
So it’s obvious that many people are, in fact, cutting back, but why? According to both the Meatless Monday survey results and the NPR health poll, health is the biggest motivator for the majority of people (62 percent and 66 percent, respectively). This isn’t surprising considering that meat intake, particularly of red meat and processed meat products, has been associated with an increased risk for many of the chronic diseases that plague our country. But there are also plenty of other reasons why people may choose to cut back on their meat intake; for example, because of the grave environmental impact of meat production, because of concerns for animal welfare, or because of the high cost of meat and dairy (which are only expected to continue to rise). While the Meatless Monday survey only allowed respondents to choose their primary reason for cutting back, making health the overwhelming majority, the NPR poll allowed multiple responses and found that cost was second (47%); followed by animal welfare (29.5%); and environmental impact (28.7%). Going one step further and stratifying the results by age, the NPR results showed that adults under the age of 35 were more concerned than older adults about animal welfare and the environment. This provides some helpful insight for understanding why people chose to reduce their meat intake and how we can best communicate messages towards different audiences.
Influence of Meatless Monday on Dietary Behaviors
While the Meatless Monday campaign has been growing exponentially since it began nearly ten years ago, there have been few efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign on influencing consumer behavior on a national scale, which is the ultimate goal—but also very challenging to measure. This survey offers great insight into some of the dietary behavior changes that are occurring as a result of awareness and participation in the campaign. For example, of those aware of Meatless Monday, 36 percent say the campaign has influenced their decision to cut back or consider cutting back on meat. And of those who were influenced, 62 percent have included Meatless Monday in their weekly routines and 40 percent have incorporated more meatless meals during the rest of the week. This same group also reported eating more vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, which represent healthier meatless alternatives.
Considering that Americans have always severely struggled to consume enough of these nutrient-rich foods and that the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines only encourage Americans to consume more of them, we need to find simple, engaging, and inexpensive strategies that can help people eat healthier. And based on these survey results, Meatless Monday can help do just that. It can be used as an effective tool for changing and sustaining healthy eating habits, bringing people more in line with the Dietary Guidelines. Cutting back on meat one day a week can create more room in the diet for the addition of healthier (and more environmentally sustainable) plant-based alternatives. If we can work to shift dietary patterns in this way, then we can ultimately help reduce the burden of diet-related chronic diseases while also simultaneously reducing the environmental pressures of a high-meat diet.
Dietitians and nutrition professionals, in particular, can play an important role in promoting this initiative in nearly any setting and in many different ways, from counseling patients who need to improve their lipid panels to developing healthier meatless menu option in food service facilities to offering meatless cooking classes to sending messages via social media networks. I am looking forward to attending FNCE this weekend and learning how we can begin to engage with more nutrition professionals on Meatless Monday and these broader public health and food system issues. I will be reporting back, so stay tuned.