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Consumer Behavior and Food Science Innovations for Optimal Nutrition

Consumer Behavior and Food Science Innovations for Optimal Nutrition
Reported by
Diana Gitig

Posted June 06, 2014


Consumer behavior has an enormous impact on nutritional outcomes, particularly in the developed world. Thus, the ability to predict, manipulate, and meet consumer demand confers substantial influence over public health and wellness. On March 26, 2014, the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science convened stakeholders from academia, the food industry, retail, government, and nonprofits to consider how to influence consumer behavior to improve nutrition. Consumer Behavior and Food Science Innovations for Optimal Nutrition featured discussion of how taste, texture, and odor influence food choice; how ingredients are developed to optimize food; and how food selection is influenced by physiological and psychological prompts, social stimuli, media, and technology.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Presentations available from:
Sanjiv Avashia, MS (Tate & Lyle)
Richard Black, PhD (PepsiCo)
Fred Brouns, PhD (Maastricht University, Netherlands)
Peter Clarke, PhD (University of Southern California)
Bruce Cogill, PhD (Bioversity International)
Susan H. Evans, PhD (University of Southern California)
Juan M. Gonzalez, PhD, MBA (Mead Johnson Nutrition)
Kees de Graaf, PhD (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
Joanne Guthrie, PhD (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
James O. Hill, PhD (University of Colorado)
Jodi Kahn (FreshDirect)
Serena C. Lo, PhD (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD (Purdue University)
Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen, PhD (Yale University)
Rick Weiss, MS (Viocare Inc.)

Note: The views expressed by Joanne Guthrie are her own and may not be attributed to either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Economic Research Service.

Presented by

  • The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science
  • a program of The New York Academy of Sciences

Consumer Food Choices: Understanding the Influence of Access, Prices, Knowledge, and Nudges

Joanne Guthrie (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 03:35
    2. Availability; Access
  • 08:53
    3. Monetary cost; Time cost
  • 16:40
    4. Knowledge; Preferences
  • 21:55
    5. School meal programs; Low-income shopping
  • 28:39
    6. Looking ahead; Conclusio

The Role of Food Science in Ingredient Functionality and Food Systems

Juan M. Gonzalez (Mead Johnson Nutrition)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 03:25
    2. Food science; Model of drivers for development and functionality; Lipids
  • 12:41
    3. Sustainability; Carbohydrates
  • 18:32
    4. Proteins; Summary and conclusio

Dietary Diversity through Biodiversity in Food Systems

Bruce Cogill (Bioversity International)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 03:24
    2. Ecosystem services; Biodiversity loss; Nutrient outputs
  • 09:55
    3. Most important food crops globally; Food systems; Global obesity patterns
  • 13:27
    4. Dietary diversity; Causality; Nutritional adequacy
  • 20:32
    5. Health outcomes; Examples; Fork to farm
  • 26:10
    6. The Whole of Diet approach; Concluding observation

Food Design: the Role of Texture, Taste, and Odor in Eating Behavior

Kees de Graaf (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 03:54
    2. Effect of texture on food intake
  • 11:33
    3. Effect of taste on food intake
  • 16:43
    4. Effect of odor on food intake
  • 24:38
    5. Summary and conclusio

Effects of Food Farm on Appetite and Energy Balance

Richard D. Mattes (Purdue University)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction; Food form
  • 04:35
    2. Cognition
  • 08:38
    3. Orosensory; Gastric; Intestinal
  • 17:33
    4. Post-absorptive; High-intensity sweeteners; Studies
  • 27:08
    5. Summary and conclusio

Development of Nutritious Food Formulations with Improved Consumer Acceptability

Sanjiv Avashia (Tate & Lyle)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 04:05
    2. Consumer trends and insights
  • 09:36
    3. Health and wellness ingredients
  • 16:48
    4. Strategies for food formulation development
  • 30:07
    5. Examples of products with high consumer acceptance
  • 32:31
    6. Summary and conclusio

Top-down Modulation of Taste and Flavor and Its Role in Ingestive Behavior

Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen (Yale University)
  • 00:01
    1. Top-down modulation; Food and expectation
  • 09:32
    2. Expectation breaching study
  • 18:20
    3. Perception alignment study
  • 23:07
    4. Conclusions and acknowledgement

Does Food Labeling Affect Food Decisions?

Serena C. Lo (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 02:30
    2. Defining food labeling and food decisions
  • 06:04
    3. Measurable aspects of food decisions; Comprehension and performance
  • 16:00
    4. Labeling claims and effects of food labeling
  • 20:15
    5. Suggestions for future research; Conclusio

Lifestyle Changes to Improve and Manage Weight

James O. Hill (University of Colorado)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 04:51
    2. Multi-factoral causes; Dieting and compliance; The difficulty of weight loss
  • 11:05
    3. Learning from the National Weight Control Registry
  • 18:07
    4. Transformation; Small changes; Sustaining behavior
  • 23:50
    5. Creating healthy environments; Summary and conclusio

Health Food Innovation

Fred Brouns (Maastricht University, Netherlands)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction; Consumer confusion
  • 05:02
    2. The politics of consumption; Misconceptions about fructose; Consumer trust
  • 14:49
    3. Industry approaches
  • 24:17
    4. Science and fraud; Misconceptions about wheat
  • 33:47
    5. Conclusion

Cross-sectoral Alliances to Change Diets: Public–Private Partnerships

Richard Black (PepsiCo)
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction; Radical transparency
  • 03:37
    2. The central premise; Challenges
  • 14:36
    3. Unavoidable partnerships; Food database
  • 20:03
    4. Stumbling blocks; Summary and conclusio

Building a Mobile Phone App for Better Nutrition

Peter Clarke and Susan H. Evans (University of Southern California)

Online Grocers Can Help Bring More Healthy Options

Jodi Kahn (FreshDirect)

Using Technology to Evaluate Nutritional Content

Rick Weiss (Viocare Inc.)

Panel Discussion

  • 00:01
    1. Image recognition; Intervention via smartphone
  • 07:17
    2. Tracking apps; Fresh Direct's approach
  • 14:50
    3. Evaluating the technologie


Keynote address: USDA studies on consumer food choice

Golan E, Stewart H, Kuchler F, Dong D. Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet? U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Amber Waves. 2008.

Kuchler F, Stewart H. Price trends are similar for fruits, vegetables, and snack foods. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-55). 2008.

Lin BH, Guthrie J. Nutritional quality of food prepared at home and away from home, 1977–2008. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-105). 2012.

Mancino L, Andrews M. Can food stamps do more to improve food choices? An economic perspective—making healthy food choices easier: ideas from behavioral economics. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-29-7). 2007.

Mancino L, Kuchler F. Dietary guidelines have encouraged some Americans to purchase more whole-grain bread. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Amber Waves. 2012.

Todd J. Changes in eating patterns and diet quality among working-age adults, 2005–2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-161). 2014.

The elements of food

Appleton KM, Blundell JE. Habitual high and low consumers of artificially-sweetened beverages: effects of sweet taste and energy on short-term appetite. Physiol Behav. 2007;92(3):479-86.

Baer DJ, Gebauer SK, Novotny JA. Measured energy value of pistachios in the human diet. Br J Nutr. 2012;107(1):120-5.

Bolhuis DP, Lakemond CM, de Wijk RA, et al. Both longer oral sensory exposure to and higher intensity of saltiness decrease ad libitum food intake in healthy normal-weight men. J Nutr. 2011;141(12):2242-8.

Clemens R, Kranz S, Mobley AR, et al. Filling America's fiber intake gap: summary of a roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods. J Nutr. 2012;142:1390S-401S.

Deckelbaum RJ, Palm C, Mutuo P, DeClerck F. Econutrition: implementation models from the Millennium Villages Project in Africa. Food Nutr Bull. 2006;27(4):335-42.

Ellis PR, Kendall CW, Ren Y, et al. Role of cell walls in the bioaccessibility of lipids in almond seeds. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(3):604-13.

Hough RL. Biodiversity and human health: evidence for causality? Biodivers Conserv. 2014;23(2):267-88.

Just T, Pau HW, Engel U, Hummel T. Cephalic phase insulin release in healthy humans after taste stimulation? Appetite. 2008;51(3):622-7.

Katz DL, Meller S. Can we say what diet is best for health? Annu Rev Public Health. 2014;35:83-103.

Khoury CK, Bjorkman AD, Dempewolf H, et al. Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(11):4001-6.

Kirkmeyer SV, Mattes RD. Effects of food attributes on hunger and food intake. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000;24(9):1167-75.

Mattes R. Effects of aspartame and sucrose on hunger and energy intake in humans. Physiol Behav. 1990;47(6):1037-44.

Mattes R. Soup and satiety. Physiol Behav. 2005;83(5):739-47.

Viskaal-van Dongen M, Kok FJ, de Graaf C. Eating rate of commonly consumed foods promotes food and energy intake. Appetite. 2011;56(1):25-31.

Physiology and psychology

Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2005;293(1):43-53.

Hill JO, Wyatt HR, Reed GW, Peters JC. Obesity and the environment: where do we go from here? Science. 2003;299(5608):853-5.

Lando AM, Lo SC. Single-larger-portion-size and dual-column nutrition labeling may help consumers make more healthful food choices. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(2):241-50.

Morrot G, Brochet F, Dubourdieu D. The color of odors. Brain Lang. 2001;79(2):309-20.

Moskowitz HR. 'Mind genomics': the experimental, inductive science of the ordinary, and its application to aspects of food and feeding. Physiol Behav. 2012;107(4):606-13.

Plassmann H, O'Doherty J, Shiv B, Rangel A. Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008;105(3):1050-4.

Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-73.

Veldhuizen MG, Douglas D, Aschenbrenner K, et al. The anterior insular cortex represents breaches of taste identity expectation. J Neurosci. 2011;31(41):14735-44.

Veldhuizen MG, Nachtigal DJ, Flammer LJ, et al. Verbal descriptors influence hypothalamic response to low-calorie drinks. Mol Metab. 2013;2(3):270-80.

Wedel M, Pieters R. A review of eye-tracking research in marketing. In: Malhotra N, ed. Review of Marketing Research. Vol 4. New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe Inc.; 2007:123-46.

Social influence and consumer mindset

Buul VJ van, Tappy L, Brouns F. Misconceptions about fructose-containing sugars and their role in the obesity epidemic. Nutr Res Rev. 2014. [Epub ahead of print]

Gladwell M. The Ketchup Conundrum: Mustard now comes in dozens of varieties. Why has ketchup stayed the same? Taste Technologies. The New Yorker. 2004.

Nagler RH. Adverse outcomes associated with media exposure to contradictory nutrition messages. J Health Commun. 2014;19(1):24-40.

Moskowitz HR, Gofman A. Selling Blue Elephants: How to make great products that people want before they even know they want them. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall; 2007.

Spink J, Moyer DC. Defining the public health threat of food fraud. J Food Sci. 2011;75(9):57-63.

Technology and food selection

Clarke P, Evans SH, Hovy EH. Indigenous message tailoring increases consumption of fresh vegetables by clients of community pantries. Health Commun. 2011;26(6):571-82.

Evans SH, Clarke P, Koprowski C. Information design to promote better nutrition among pantry clients: four methods of formative evaluation. Public Health Nutr. 2010;13(3):430-7.

Kristal AR, Kolar AS, Fisher JL, et al. Evaluation of web-based, self-administered, graphical food frequency questionnaire. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(4):613-21.


Riccardo Accolla, PhD


Riccardo Accolla is a director at Firmenich, where he works on the Health and Nutrition Platform and Taste Modulation Business Unit. He is responsible for identifying technologies, solutions, and business models in consumer health and taste perception modulation. Accolla works to build multidisciplinary public–private partnerships on obesity and non-communicable disease prevention. He is a member of the Sackler Institute working group on technology and innovation in agriculture, food, and nutrition. Accolla obtained a PhD in neuroscience from the Brain Mind Institute at Swiss Polytechnic Federal Institute (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a MEng in biomedical engineering from the Polytechnic School of Milan, Italy. His research has focused on taste perception, cognition, and memory.

Julianne Curran, PhD

Pulse Canada

Julianne Curran holds a PhD in human nutritional sciences from the University of Manitoba, Canada. At Pulse Canada she works to promote pulse crops (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas) and their ingredient derivatives as healthy and environmentally sustainable ingredient solutions for the food industry. As director of nutrition, scientific, and regulatory affairs, Curran facilitates research to develop credible, science-based nutrition and health marketing messages and health claims. She also communicates with research scientists and funding organizations on the Canadian pulse industry's strategic areas of focus for nutrition, health, and food science research. Curran has taught nutrition and food science courses at the University of Manitoba and serves on the editorial board for the Bean Institute.

Jessica Fanzo, PhD

Columbia University
website | publications

Jessica Fanzo is an assistant professor of nutrition at the Institute of Human Nutrition and in the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University. She also serves as the senior advisor of nutrition policy at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development. Before joining Columbia University, Fanzo was the evaluation and monitoring officer for the REACH Interagency partnership at the UN World Food Programme. She has also held positions as a senior scientist at Bioversity International, nutrition director at the Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute, nutrition regional advisor for East and Southern Africa at the Millennium Development Goal Centre of the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya, and program officer for the Medical Research Program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Fanzo became the first laureate in 2012 of the Daniel Carasso Premio for her work on sustainable food and diets for long-term human health. She holds a PhD in nutrition from the University of Arizona and completed a Stephen I. Morse postdoctoral fellowship in immunology at Columbia University.

Girish Ganjyal, PhD

Washington State University
website | publications

Girish Ganjyal is an assistant professor in the School of Food Science at Washington State University. Ganjyal received his PhD in food processing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Before joining WSU he worked as a principal scientist at MGP Ingredients in the areas of protein and starch modification and extrusion processing, and later on the PepsiCo advanced research team. Ganjyal has over 9 years of industry experience in food ingredients, process technologies, and food product development. He currently offers extension and research services to food companies through the WSU food processing extension and research programs.

Maret Traber, PhD

Oregon State University
website | publications

Maret G. Traber is the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences Nutrition Program. Traber is considered a leading expert in vitamin E. She pioneered the use of deuterium-labeled vitamin E for studies evaluating vitamin E status in humans. Her studies led to a paradigm shift in our understanding of the mechanisms regulating vitamin E availability in humans and provided the scientific basis for understanding the complex role of vitamin E in human health. She also pioneered the methodologies for evaluating vitamin E status in humans and identified key mechanisms for regulating its bioavailability. This work significantly contributed to establishing the Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin E. Traber currently serves on the editorial boards of Free Radical Biology & Medicine and Redox Biology.

Mandana Arabi, MD, PhD

Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

Amy Beaudreault, PhD

Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

Keynote Speaker

Joanne Guthrie, PhD

U.S. Department of Agriculture
website | publications

Joanne F. Guthrie is a nutritionist with the Food Assistance Branch at the Food Economics Division of the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). She is the project director for the Behavioral Economics–Child Nutrition Initiative, conducted by ERS with funding support from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). She developed and now manages a portfolio of extramurally-funded projects that employ behavioral economics theory to identify strategies to increase the effectiveness of USDA school meal programs. This project was awarded the USDA Secretary's Honor Award in 2011. She also conducts research and evaluation studies with a special focus on USDA child nutrition programs and nutrition education provided through food assistance programs. She represents ERS on the USDA's Human Nutrition Coordinating Committee and other interagency federal nutrition committees.


Sanjiv Avashia, MS

Tate & Lyle

Sanjiv Avashia has worked for Tate & Lyle for 18 years. As a senior food scientist, he specializes in confectionery and snack applications, particularly texturants, sweeteners, and wellness ingredients. He has over 25 years of food industry experience in food product development and technical services.

Richard Black, PhD


Richard Black joined PepsiCo in 2013 as vice president of Global R&D Nutrition. Before joining PepsiCo, Black worked for Mondelez International as vice president of nutrition and chief nutrition officer. He has held leadership positions at Nestle, Kellogg's, Novartis, and Kraft, with a focus on dairy, sports nutrition, and micro/macro ingredients. He has also served as an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, and worked on Health Canada advisory panels developing policies on health claims and micronutrient guidelines. He holds a PhD in the psychology of eating behavior. He is a member of the American Society of Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, the Obesity Society, and various food industry trade associations.

Fred Brouns, PhD

Maastricht University, Netherlands

Fred Brouns holds a PhD in nutritional physiology from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. His research focuses on food and drink consumption and carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism during intense physical performance. He has over 25 years' experience in life sciences and health nutrition, working in international R&D at Wander Dietetics, Sandoz Nutrition, Novartis Nutrition, Eridania Beghin Say, Cerestar, and Cargill Inc. He holds a chair in Health Food Innovation at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life and Sciences in the research school NUTRIM (Nutrition, Toxicology and Metabolism Research Institute Maastricht) of Maastricht University and is program director of the International Master's in Science Program. He was awarded the Dutch Sports Medicine Award and currently has a special focus on health and disease aspects of cereals, whole grain, and added sugars.

Peter Clarke, PhD

University of Southern California
website | publications

Peter Clarke is a professor of communication and of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. He has directed projects that apply advanced telecommunications to health care. His current interests center on improving human nutrition. From the Wholesaler to the Hungry (FWH), the program he and Susan H. Evans created, launched more than 150 new efforts nationwide that recover vast quantities of surplus fresh produce and direct these nutritious foods to low-income Americans. FWH received awards for public service from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the UPS Foundation. Clarke and Evans are now developing and field testing Quick! Help for Meals, a system that customizes recipes and food use tips for clients of community pantries. Individualized messaging greatly increases pantry clients' consumption of vegetable-based meals and snacks. Clarke previously served in communication programs at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan. His most recent book (with Evans) is Surviving Modern Medicine.

Bruce Cogill, PhD

Bioversity International

Bruce Cogill is the program leader for Nutrition and Marketing of Diversity at Bioversity International. He has experience in food and nutrition policy, sustainable diets, agriculture and environment, research, and practice. He holds a PhD from Cornell University in international nutrition and agricultural economics and has consulted on food and nutrition for universities, the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and others. He has lived and worked in several countries including Mozambique, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea, and lectured at various universities including Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, Tulane University, Oxford University, and others. He is the associate editor for nutrition at the Journal for Global Health: Science and Practice.

Susan H. Evans, PhD

University of Southern California
website | publications

Susan H. Evans is a research scientist at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has a long-standing interest in using communication technologies and strategies to improve public health, especially people's capacity to avoid or manage chronic illnesses. Her current research focuses on developing and testing a mobile phone application to help low-income people use fresh vegetables distributed by food pantries. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and builds on her years of experience working with food banks across the country, helping more than 150 organizations launch programs to distribute fresh produce. She is an award-winning producer of interactive media tools in health, from such organizations as the Association of Visual Communications and the International Teleconferencing Association. She is co-author with Peter Clarke of Surviving Modern Medicine. Evans has been co-principle investigator on research grants from the U.S. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, IBM Corporation, the State of California, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and others. Evans earned her PhD at the University of Michigan.

Juan M. Gonzalez, PhD, MBA

Mead Johnson Nutrition

Juan M. Gonzalez is an associate director and fellow in Global Product Development at the Pediatric Nutrition Institute at Mead Johnson Nutrition. Gonzalez is also an adjunct professor at the Food and Nutrition Department of the University of Southern Indiana. He earned an MS in food science at Ohio State University, an MBA at the University of Minnesota, and a PhD in food chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he also completed postdoctoral work in the biochemical engineering program. Gonzalez has over 20 years of international experience in the food industry, R&D, manufacturing, and management. His work at Mead Johnson Nutrition has focused on technology innovation for infant and child nutrition.

Kees de Graaf, PhD

Wageningen University, Netherlands
website | publications

Kees de Graaf is a professor in sensory science and eating behavior at the Division of Human Nutrition of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He holds a PhD for thesis work entitled Psychophysical Studies of Mixtures of Tastants. De Graaf focuses on psycho-biological determinants of eating behavior, particularly the meaning of sensory signals such as taste, odor, and texture for eating behavior in children, the elderly, and normal weight and overweight populations. He also looks at the effects of properties of food on choice and intake, including the relation between physical chemical properties of food and sensory perception of salt, sugar, and fat; the effect of sensory signals on health and wellness; the psychobiology of food reward; and the role of external factors on food intake.

James O. Hill, PhD

University of Colorado
website | publications

James O. Hill is the founding executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. He holds the Anschutz Endowed Chair in Health and Wellness and is a professor of pediatrics and medicine. Hill served as chair of the first World Health Organization Consultation on Obesity in 1997 and is past president of the Obesity Society and the American Society for Nutrition. He helped the National Institute of Health develop the first U.S. guidelines for the treatment and prevention of obesity. His published work focuses on the importance of healthy eating and physical activity in weight management. Hill is a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of individuals who have been successful in maintenance of a reduced body weight. He is co-founder of America on the Move, a national weight gain prevention initiative that aims to inspire Americans to make small changes in how much they eat and move to prevent weight gain. He is co-author of Step Diet (2004) and State of Slim (2013).

Jodi Kahn


Jodi Kahn is the chief consumer officer for FreshDirect, where she is responsible for all consumer-facing marketing, including shopping experience, digital/mobile development, and new marketing platforms. She previously served as president of iVillage, the largest online content community for women at NBC Universal, where she reorganized the business and introduced new revenue and licensing models. Her team developed tools to survey everyday women and started the popular Community Challenges program to focus on women and health, education, and finance. These initiatives captured national recognition, sparking a partnership with the First Lady and the White House.

Serena C. Lo, PhD

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Serena C. Lo is a consumer science specialist in the Division of Public Health Informatics & Analytics of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She has a PhD in applied social psychology from George Washington University. Since joining the FDA in 2010, Lo has worked on food labeling and consumer understanding of nutrition labels, diet-related diseases, and dietary supplement claims and disclaimers. Her activities focus on survey research design, administration, analysis, and interpretation with a particular emphasis on the use of experimental designs for examining consumer responses to food and dietary supplement labels.

Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD

Purdue University
website | publications

Richard D. Mattes is a distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and an affiliated scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. His research focuses on hunger and satiety, regulation of food intake in humans, food preference, human cephalic phase responses, and taste and smell. At Purdue University, Mattes is the director of the Ingestive Behavior Research Center and chair of the Biomedical and Community Human Subjects Review committees. He is an associate editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and sits on the editorial board of Chemosensory Perception and Ear, Nose and Throat. He has received multiple awards, most recently the Babcock-Hart Award from the Institute of Food Technologists. Mattes holds an MPH from the University of Michigan and a PhD in human nutrition from Cornell University. He conducted postdoctoral studies at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Howard Moskowitz, PhD

Moskowitz Jacobs Inc.

Howard Moskowitz is CEO of Moskowitz Jacobs Inc. and chairman of iNovum LLC, a new company focused on increasing science and commerce by understanding "the algebra of the mind." He received his PhD from Harvard University and worked as a government scientist before establishing iNovum. Moskowitz founded the journal Chemical Senses in 1972 and has published 24 books. He is currently working on Mind Genomics, the experimental science of the everyday, which he developed and for which he is writing The New Novum Organum.

Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen, PhD

Yale University
website | publications

Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen is an associate research scientist in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. During her PhD with Dr. Jan Kroeze at Utrecht University, Netherlands, Veldhuizen was trained as a psychophysicist in taste, smell, and flavor perception. Since joining the John B. Pierce Laboratory in 2006, she has combined these skills with neuroimaging of chemosensory perception in humans using fMRI and advanced computational techniques such as network modeling and pattern analysis. She is interested in gustatory encoding, integration of taste and smell, and development of flavor preferences. One focus has been on how the human brain achieves attention to taste and how the taste cortex interacts with other cortical areas. She has also worked on the neural commonalities of sweet taste and sweet odors and on understanding how the appreciation for a flavor develops by association with calories in humans.

Rick Weiss, MS

Viocare Inc.

Rick Weiss is president, founder, and chief wellness engineer of Viocare Inc., a health care information technology company. Viocare develops dietary and physical activity assessment and behavioral change systems for researchers, clinicians, and wellness counselors. Weiss has been the principal investigator on 24 National Institutes of Health grants and contracts, valued at over $10 million. These projects have formed the basis of Viocare's products. He has received the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the New Jersey Small Business Development Center's Success Award, the YMCA Healthcare Centennial Award, and the U.S. Small Business Association Tibbetts Award. The last award honors companies that have made an important and definable difference in advancing technological innovation and economic growth through the stimulus of small business innovation research funding. Weiss began his career as an applied researcher at Bell Laboratories after receiving an MS in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University.

Diana Gitig

Diana Gitig earned her PhD in cell biology and genetics from Cornell University's Graduate School of Medical Sciences in 2001, and she has been a freelance science writer ever since. She is based in White Plains, New York.


Bronze Sponsor

Presented by

  • The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science
  • a program of The New York Academy of Sciences

Which foods do consumers choose to eat, and why? What do consumers look for when food shopping? How does the food industry manufacture and market food products to meet consumer demand? How can consumer behavior be influenced to promote healthy food choices? These questions were the focus of the Consumer Behavior and Food Science Innovations for Optimal Nutrition conference, which convened speakers from academia, industry, the nonprofit sector, retail, and government.

The speakers agreed on the need to change the way food science is conceived and performed. To achieve a healthier, leaner population, we need to improve food manufacturing norms and shift consumers' eating habits. For the past half century, food science has been a reductionist endeavor, with scientists striving to identify the nutrient or compound responsible for a certain health condition, and then to artificially add it to the food supply if deficiency is the problem (vitamin D, folic acid) or to eliminate it if excess is the problem (salt, saturated fat, high fructose corn syrup). But we do not eat nutrients in isolation; we eat food. Several speakers discussed how to change the focus of food science from individual nutrients to whole foods.

There is also a need to restore dietary variety in developing countries and move away from approaches to malnutrition that focus on providing isolated nutrients. Food companies working to meet a particular health need must consider the complete product; simply eliminating one ingredient, such as sugar, often makes products unpalatable or difficult to store. Low-income consumers in the U.S. can obtain whole foods from food pantries but often need information about how to use unfamiliar foods. People seeking to lose weight usually keep track of food consumption, not nutrient consumption, and need dietary recommendations in the same format.

In her keynote address Joanne Guthrie discussed the many elements that influence food decisions, which include convenience, price, perceived health benefits, taste, messages conveyed by the media, and the opinions of friends. In the first session, Richard D. Mattes described the effects of texture on food choice and energy consumption. Liquid foods can be consumed faster and in higher quantities than solid foods and protein is less satiating in beverage form. Mattes showed that food form impacts how the body processes food and suggested that these "food form effects" could be incorporated into dietary recommendations and labeling decisions.

The next session focused on the perhaps surprising psychological factors that influence food intake. Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen demonstrated by relating a study on wine perception among sommeliers. When comparing dyed and undyed identical white wines, participants described the red-colored wine with typical red wine adjectives, such as "jammy," and the white-colored wine with its standard descriptors, such as "grassy." They also preferred wines reported as more expensive, not only claiming a preference but also showing heightened responses in brain areas associated with reward perception.

The conference also featured discussion of how public–private partnerships could improve the food supply, as well as how to market products effectively to different types of consumers. The speakers highlighted the need to remedy widespread confusion among the public stemming from frequently conflicting nutritional information, particularly positive press about flawed nutritional science and negative press about well-controlled, rigorous science. The conference concluded with an exploration of how to use technology to improve nutrition. The goal throughout was to understand consumer behavior in the hope that companies can provide food that meets consumer demand and provides nutritional adequacy.

Keynote Speaker:
Joanne Guthrie, U.S. Department of Agriculture


  • American diets consistently fail to meet USDA recommendations, notably falling short in daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy.
  • Providing information about nutritional content to consumers can influence product choice and behavior.
  • Behavioral economics, which recognizes that people often act irrationally, suggests using strategies to subtly influence, or "nudge," consumers to choose foods that promote healthy eating.

Understanding the influence of access, prices, knowledge, and nudges

American diets do not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations, containing more than the suggested amounts of meat and grains and less than half the recommended fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) provides resources to support policy and economic decisions regarding agriculture, food, environment, and rural development.

Keynote speaker Joanne Guthrie of ERS gave an overview of the organization's research into how food availability (supply) and consumer preferences (demand) influence food choice, as well as how to promote public health and improve consumer diets through policy making. She acknowledged that there are economic determinants of food choice but said the idea that healthy food is more expensive than junk food may be a misconception. Value comparisons that measure and report food prices per 100 calories can be deceptive. When price is calculated by weight or by average serving, rather than by energy content, fruits and vegetables do not turn out to be more expensive. Guthrie pointed out that consumers may need to shift their spending profiles to eat healthily and affordably, buying less junk food and more fresh produce.

American consumers underspend on vegetables but overspend on processed foods. (Image courtesy of Joanne Guthrie)

Price is only one consideration in deciding what's for dinner; accessibility is also critical. Limited access to grocery stores may make it harder to eat a healthy diet, but this problem affects only a small percentage of Americans and data suggest that access is improving. The number of households with access to nutritious food increased between 2006 and 2010 because more people had access to cars and fewer had to travel far to reach a supermarket. Technological advances in food manufacturing have also promoted the accessibility of healthy food; for instance, by allowing fresh produce to be stored and shipped over long distances and made available year-round.

Eating a healthy diet takes time in addition to money. The American Time Use Survey indicates that Americans tend to save time by eating out and even during the recent recession obtained a higher percentage of calories from outside sources than in the past. Food prepared outside the home is often associated with poorer dietary quality; however, ERS research suggests that Americans are making somewhat better choices, opting for meals that are lower in saturated fat and higher in dietary fiber. This trend could be attributable to recent labeling laws. When the 2005 dietary guidelines promoted whole grains, manufacturers introduced and consumers bought more whole grain products. Consumers have also responded to guidelines discouraging consumption of trans fats.

Traditional economics taught that behavior is consistent and can be changed through education. But cognitive psychology teaches that behavior is often irrational. Decisions about food are influenced by hunger, convenience, default options (such as soda with fast-food), societal norms and mores, and sensory stimuli. The Behavioral Economics–Child Nutrition Research Initiative, run by ERS and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), explores how to "nudge" people into making healthier food choices. The initiative found that schools usually control which food choices are offered and how food is displayed. In behavioral economics terms, schools have control over the choice architecture. Successful approaches to changing student behavior include increasing the visibly and availability of healthy foods, shortening lunch lines, attracting attention with names like "rockin' broccoli," and creating nutrition report cards that hold children accountable and inform parents of their food choices. Similar tactics are being used to encourage low-income shoppers to buy healthier foods.

The ongoing National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) should yield additional data on shopping access and purchasing trends. Initial data should be available later this year.

Juan M. Gonzalez, Mead Johnson Nutrition
Bruce Cogill, Bioversity International
Kees de Graaf, Wageningen University, Netherlands
Richard D. Mattes, Purdue University
Sanjiv Avashia, Tate & Lyle


  • Our food supply relies on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables. As a result, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared.
  • Wheat, rice, and maize—only three of the 50 000+ edible plants—provide more than half of the world population's food energy.
  • The value of food cannot be measured solely by the sum of its isolated nutrients.
  • Texture has a large impact on eating rate, which impacts food and energy intake.
  • Recent advances in food ingredient development offer opportunities to develop nutritious products that consumers will accept.

The role of food science in ingredient functionality and food systems

Juan M. Gonzalez from the Pediatric Nutrition Institute at Mead Johnson Nutrition explained that food scientists use technology to develop ingredients to perform a specific function, such as to promote health, nutrition, or sensory experience. He described a model to study the development of food ingredients and predict their utility. As ingredients move from industry conception to consumer acceptance, the manufacturing process is influenced by considerations including functionality, health benefits, legal and economic concerns, and consumer preferences.

Salt is an ancient example of a functional ingredient, acting as a preservative to facilitate long-term storage and transportation and enhancing flavor and nutrient content. Gonzalez showed that it would fit his model if introduced today. Food scientists now use engineering and biological and physical sciences to improve food products for public consumption—but the factors dictating the success or failure of new ingredients have not changed. Functional ingredients that have recently been promoted include lipids such as DHA and ARA, which add nutritional value to infant formulas, and artificial sweeteners that aid in weight loss.

Several factors drive the development, functionality, and acceptance of food ingredients. (Image courtesy of Juan M. Gonzalez)


Biodiversity in food systems

Agricultural practices in the second half of the 20th century were geared toward increasing food production while decreasing costs, not toward maximizing food quality and retaining the health of ecosystems. The resulting biodiversity loss affects crops around the world. Rice, maize, and wheat provide over 50% of the world's plant-derived food supply and up to 70%–80% of the energy content in a typical daily diet in the developing world. But these crops have low to moderate protein content and are often low in micronutrients, overprocessed, and of poor quality. Thus, many people experience depleted dietary diversity, and with it profound micronutrient, protein, and essential-fat deficiencies.

As we have come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared. (Image courtesy of Bruce Cogill)

Bruce Cogill of Bioversity International expressed alarm about modern agriculture policies, noting that enhanced dietary diversity is strongly associated with better health. He insisted that scientists must abandon the reductionist approach to diet, which examines ingredients, nutrients, and deficiencies in isolation and has guided nutritional studies for the past half century. Instead, we need a holistic approach to dietary guidelines that acknowledges that people consume whole foods.

Cogill pointed to the interdependency among agriculture, the environment, and human health outcomes such as under- and overnutrition but said more research is needed to understand these interactions, especially to examine a "whole of diet" approach to nutrition. Although dietary diversity is associated with nutritional adequacy and positive health outcomes, such as reduced all-cause mortality and lower cardiovascular disease risk, studies do not clearly indicate how well biodiversity translates into nutritional diversity. Often, available foods are not well-utilized in local diets. Bioversity International aims to leverage local biodiversity and locally available foods to optimize nutrition and health. Cogill called for more research into biodiversity and dietary diversity, particularly to understand how to improve local diets to combat diet-related non-communicable diseases.

We need to move toward a "whole of diet" approach to under- and overnutrition, leveraging local biodiversity to improve diet. (Image courtesy of Bruce Cogill)


Food design and eating behavior: texture, taste, and odor

Eating a kilogram of grapes takes twenty minutes. Drinking juice made from a kilogram of grapes takes a minute and a half. Liquids and the soft but energy-dense foods like peanut butter that make up so much of the modern diet make it easy to eat quickly. Kees de Graaf of Wageningen University explained that texture substantially impacts eating rate, and perhaps surprisingly, has a more important effect than flavor on satiation. Thus, eating quickly usually leads to eating more, and liquid-form foods facilitate high energy intake over short periods of time.

De Graaf has also demonstrated that eating rate can overcome the effects of texture. Experimental subjects who drank apple juice never felt full, but those who consumed an isocaloric amount of solid apples or apple juice in soup-like form, one spoonful at a time, felt sated for over an hour. Satiation depends on our ability to taste food; thus, the more slowly we eat the more able we are to taste food, and we feel full more quickly and even stay full for longer. Awareness of the effect on satiety of texture, taste, and eating rate could be used to design foods to be eaten slowly, as a strategy to fight the global obesity epidemic.

Texture has a large impact on eating rate, and eating rate has a large impact on food and energy intake. Soup-form food is consumed slower and is more satiating than an isocaloric beverage that is sipped. (Image courtesy of Kees de Graaf)


Food form, energy balance, and appetite

While on the molecular level a calorie from one source is equivalent to a calorie from another, in practice the picture is more complex. Anyone who recognizes that some foods are more beneficial than others, said Richard D. Mattes of Purdue University, recognizes that "a calorie is really not a calorie." Mattes discussed how food form—a sensory property, less-recognized than taste and smell—influences food choice and how food is processed by the body. His data show that food form has cognitive and oro-sensory effects and influences food absorption and use. In an experiment examining how our expectations of food form inside the body influence our physiological responses, participants expecting a beverage to remain liquid in the stomach had elevated levels of ghrelin (which regulates hunger) compared to those who thought it would turn into a solid. The beverage, which remained liquid, was cleared faster in participants expecting liquid in the stomach. They also remained hungrier and felt less full. The expectation of food form in the stomach even predicted food intake throughout the day.

Mattes also spoke about cephalic phase responses (anticipatory physiological responses to sensory stimulation) and their relationship to food intake. Although small and transient compared to real physiological responses to ingestion, cephalic responses may modulate and even determine those physiological responses. For instance, a sweet taste induces a cephalic phase insulin response that predicts the metabolic response to actual sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to induce a cephalic phase response, but there is conflicting data on their physiological effects. Artificial sweeteners do not deliver the energy the body expects, and a study investigating the effect of this discrepancy found that rodents exposed to artificial sweeteners consumed more energy overall, perhaps to compensate for unpredictable satiety. In humans, a study showed no difference in energy intake after unknowing consumption of some artificial or natural-only sugars, but there is evidence that knowing use of artificial sweeteners can prompt us to overeat based on a belief that calorie intake has been reduced.

Product development and consumer acceptability

Sanjiv Avashia of Tate & Lyle discussed research the company has conducted to help it design products to meet consumer demand. Surveys show consumers are most interested in the fat, energy, and sugar contents of food products, and many people want to manage sugar and energy intake, reduce salt consumption, and increase fiber intake. Of course, consumers also want tasty and affordable food.

In formulating new food products, companies need to balance consumer desires with factors such as texture, ease of manufacture, scalability, moisture retention, stability, and mouthfeel. Avashia described several Tate & Lyle products to demonstrate the development process. A reduced-sugar cheesecake, for example, uses a low-calorie artificial sweetener, as well as polydextrose (to retain texture lost through the removal of sugar) and an instant modified corn starch to add viscosity. The use of artificial sweeteners to reduce calorie content necessitates the inclusion of these bulking agents, which give products like cakes a creamy texture even after refrigeration and ensure that products do not separate into aqueous and starchy layers.

New functional ingredients enable companies to manufacture foods with favorable nutritional profiles that also taste good and appeal to consumers. When formulating these new food products, companies must consider how engineered ingredients will act in concert and balance each other to form a cohesive and palatable whole.

James O. Hill, University of Colorado
Serena C. Lo, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen, Yale University


  • Compliance is key to the success of any diet plan, but it is difficult to maintain weight loss over the long term.
  • Manufacturers often include voluntary statements on food labels, such as graphics, promotional information, or claims about the nutritional characteristics and health benefits of the product.
  • Consumers find it difficult to compare products that have different serving sizes, and comprehension of food labeling is better among people who use labels regularly.
  • We use sight, smell, social cues, and labels to judge food safety before eating. Expected and unexpected tastes activate different areas of the brain.

Lifestyle changes to improve and manage weight

From the mid-1970s to 2000, obesity rates among both adults and children in the U.S. skyrocketed. These rates have since stabilized, but James O. Hill of the University of Colorado expressed concern that the stabilization may have occurred because people at risk of obesity are already obese.

Obesity results from an interplay of physiological, behavioral, environmental, and inherited characteristics that cause an imbalance in energy intake and energy expenditure; it cannot be remedied by altering only the first while ignoring the second. Hill suggested that obesity does not represent broken physiology; rather, obesity is the appropriate physiological response to our broken modern environment, with its constant access to energy-dense foods and lack of physical activity.

There are so many contributors to the obesity epidemic—including fat and sugar consumption and time spent sitting—we cannot hope to reverse course by considering only one. Many different types of diet can lead to weight loss in the short term. But in the long term, the body adapts to diminished energy intake by reducing energy expenditure, making it difficult to maintain weight loss. The National Weight Control Registry has found that people who achieve long-term weight loss often completely change the structure of their lives and focus social and professional activities on maintaining their lower weight. Preventing weight gain might be simpler than achieving weight loss. Small changes, such as choosing milk and carrots with takeout food instead of fries and soda, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, are often easier to implement than large changes. Hill concluded by noting that health and wellness should be viewed not as an output, something that must be worked for, but as an input—a baseline state that promotes a healthy life. Perhaps such a shift will gradually reduce the numbers of overweight and obese children and adults.

Obesity is the result of an imbalance in energy intake and energy expenditure. We cannot hope to fix the obesity epidemic by focusing on one side of this equation while ignoring the other. (Image courtesy of James O. Hill)


Does food labeling affect food decisions?

In 2002 and 2008 the FDA fielded its Health and Diet Survey, a random-digit-dial probability-based population telephone survey, to over 2300 consumers in the U.S. About 50% of respondents in each year remembered an instance in the previous two weeks when reading the nutrition label changed their decision to buy or use a food product.

Food labeling includes but is not limited to nutrition labels. The principle display panel (the front of the container) must identify the food and list its quantity. Manufacturers often include additional voluntary statements on food labels, such as promotional statements, graphics, and claims about the nutritional characteristics or health benefits of the product. All information on food labels must be truthful and must not be misleading. The information panel on packaged food is located on the right of the principal display panel and must include the ingredient declaration and the Nutrition Facts label.

Serena C. Lo is a consumer science specialist at the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, where she studies judgments people form when viewing factual nutritional information. She pointed to several ways to assess these judgments, including visual attention, comprehension, selection, behavior, and sales data. Lo has found that consumers rate products as healthier when serving sizes are smaller and find it difficult to compare products that have different serving sizes. Unsurprisingly, performance on comprehension and judgment tasks is better among people who use labels regularly, a group that includes women, people who have a higher level of education or an interest in nutrition, and people with specific dietary needs or health concerns such as allergies.

Eye-tracking research examining visual attention to the Nutrition Facts label demonstrates that nutrients located at the top of the label receive the most attention. Visual searches also take longer when information is found near the center of the label, and people with enhanced motivation to find healthy products pay more attention to nutritional information.

Top-down modulation of taste and flavor: role in ingestive behavior

Maria Geraldine Veldhuizen is a psychophysicist whose work focuses on the impact of taste, smell, and flavor perception on ingestive behavior. At the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University, she incorporates neuroimaging of chemosensory perception into her research, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and advanced computational techniques such as network modeling and pattern analysis. Many considerations influence our food choices, including appearance, smell, labeling, and messages from friends and the press. When our expectations about taste do not match our sensory experience, and particularly if the mismatch is large, oral perception (flavor, taste, and texture)—not usually particularly sharp—takes on heightened significance and other inputs fade.

The brain circuits that mediate these interactions are unknown. Individual variation in eating style, body mass index (BMI), and sensitivity to rewards may create a vulnerability to overeating. A better understanding of how we make food choices may allow researchers to predict how food messages will affect people differently.

Using fMRI, which measures regional blood flow and is commonly used as a proxy for brain activity, Veldhuizen has shown that expected and unexpected tastes activate different areas of the brain. Compared to expected stimuli, unexpected stimuli, such as a tasteless liquid in place of something sweet, resulted in greater deactivation in fusiform gyri. This brain activity may reflect suppression of visual object regions while the brain tries to orient to and identify an unexpected taste. Verbal labels also affect the brain's response to flavor. When low-calorie drinks were described as treats, brain activity in the hypothalamus and midbrain mirrored activity when the subjects were actually given treats (milkshakes). Interestingly, the subjects reported that the altered labels did not change their perception of or desire for the low-calorie drink. Veldhuizen's data also indicate that high BMI may impair ability to learn from unexpected tastes.

Richard Black, PepsiCo
Howard Moskowitz, Moskowitz Jacobs Inc.
Fred Brouns, Maastricht University, Netherlands


  • We need more collaboration among the food industry, the public health community, and regulators to make needed changes to the food supply.
  • iNovum has developed software intended to identify consumer preferences and guide users to healthy products.
  • Conflicting health and food messages in the media confuse consumers, leading some to distrust information about food safety and health.

Alliances to change diets: public–private partnerships

Richard Black of PepsiCo argued that we need more collaboration between the food industry and the public health community to make needed changes to the food supply. Particularly, he pointed out that research in the public health sphere is not always made available to the food industry and argued for greater transparency to enable the food industry to be engaged in changing consumer behavior. There has not traditionally been a great deal of trust among the food industry, the public health community, and government regulators. However, Black encouraged participants to seek partnerships in areas where collaboration is needed. The USDA and Agricultural Research Service public–private partnership ATIP (Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership) Foundation, founded to enable the private sector to commercialize USDA research, exemplifies such collaboration.

To effect change, all stakeholders need to have a robust knowledge of the food supply. Black mentioned that the ATIP Branded Foods Products Database for Public Health, established in 2011, will greatly expand access to information. Food companies provide "nutrient compositions of branded foods and private label" data on a yearly basis, and the information is publicly available and vetted and housed by USDA. The USDA databases previously included less than 10% of available foods, so this effort will substantially expand public access to food information and provide a better basis for policy decisions. Black also noted that the expanded database will allow companies to monitor the food supply, which changes substantially from year to year as products come on and off the market.

Sequencing the genome of the consumer mind

Howard Moskowitz is CEO of Moskowitz Jacobs Inc. and chairman of iNovum, a new company that aims to use predictive analytics in commerce to direct consumers to healthy products, using software called MindGenomics. Moskowitz hopes the system will benefit consumers and producers, who will respectively be directed to products that match their needs and be able to more effectively target products to increase sales.

The software divides people into three to five types for any particular product or service, based on their reactions to consumer messaging and answers to simple questions. The idea is to categorize consumers based solely on these reactions, not on demographic data or prior knowledge about an individual. The messages can be about health claims, sensory claims, environmental claims, or price points. The software then provides information about healthy products while the consumer shops. Each person receives specific, tailored messages, which are intended to resonate and encourage behavioral change.

An epidemiological approach has historically been used to influence consumer behavior, relying on questionnaires about lifestyle and habits to create appealing advertisements and packaging. But this approach has never worked well and is especially difficult to implement for new or small-scale products because large data sets are needed. It also generates generic messaging and does not provide data specific to each consumer. Moskowitz described the iNovum approach as aiming to uncover the "mental genome" of each individual for each product, so that companies can create messages that appeal to consumers and foster brand loyalty.

Eating for personal health: carbs, fats, gluten, "processed," or "whole-natural"?

Fred Brouns from Maastricht University began by noting that is difficult for the public to sort out the many confusing health claims touted by the media. If messages change frequently and conflict with one another, he argued, consumers will be tempted to disregard all information about nutrition, even well-founded recommendations about exercise and fruit and vegetable consumption. Part of the problem is that rigorous science is seldom sensational, but shocking news—"Fructose is toxic!"; "Gluten makes us fat and sick!"; "Caffeinated energy drinks may kill you!"—sells newspapers. Biased publications and industry-supported research compound the confusion.

The pubic does not know whom to trust, and therefore turns to social media, pop science, and other unregulated venues, or makes food decisions based on convenience, price, and taste. In fact, this distrust is not unjustified: doubts are often validated by shady practices in advertising and inconsistent legalities, such as unregulated product marketing in developing countries using claims that are prohibited in the West for lack of evidence. Brouns pointed out that whether companies "cheat," making statements that are false or that embellish the truth in food labeling, is not at issue—clearly, they do. Commonly fraudulent foods include olive oil, fish, milk, and organic foods. He also said that interdependency between science and its industry funders detracts from the credibility of some studies. Consumers need to know how to respond, and what to look for.

Brouns thinks we need to control and regulate health claims to prevent fraud. We need more transparent and effective regulations, with significant enforcement and penalties, including sufficient financing for regulators. To avoid the spread of "bad science," universities should shift part of their focus from publishing in journals to using social media and public or web-based lectures to disseminate research findings. Open-access publishing could increase transparency, but there must also be safeguards against pay-for-publication models. Effective public outreach could ensure that opinion leaders perceived as experts by consumers are well informed.

Peter Clarke, University of Southern California
Susan H. Evans, University of Southern California
Jodi Kahn, FreshDirect
Rick Weiss, Viocare Inc.


  • Forty million Americans use food pantries. Mobile applications incorporating nutritional information and recipes can help consumers to use the ingredients provided.
  • Online food retailers can promote healthy food choices by providing easily accessible nutritional information.
  • Tracking food intake is known to lead to weight loss but difficult to sustain. Cell phone applications could make the strategy easier to implement.

A mobile app for better nutrition among food pantry clients

Low-income consumers can obtain fresh produce at community pantries. Forty million people use food pantries, but often these consumers do not know how to use unfamiliar foods, leading to wastage and lost opportunities to improve nutrition. Researchers from the University of Southern California, Peter Clarke, a professor of communication and preventive medicine, and Susan H. Evans, a research scientist at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, have collaborated to provide this population with nutrition help. They developed an application for cell phones that offers two kinds of customized content, VeggieBook and Secrets to Better Eating.

VeggieBook provides recipes and food-use tips about commonly distributed fresh vegetables. Each recipient decides which recipes and tips to use from among hundreds of specially designed recipes provided in English or Spanish. Users customize their VeggieBook by answering 21 questions such as: Do you want recipes for soup? With meat or chicken? Using a blender? Kid-friendly? Preparing food for a person with diabetes? Research has shown that customized recipes and tips led to a 40% increase in clients’ use of vegetables, compared to standardized versions.

Secrets to Better Eating invites clients to browse five chapters covering topics about breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and food shopping. The content presents 80+ practical, no-cost strategies on themes such as limiting fats and sugar in the diet, establishing a psycho-socially beneficial atmosphere at meals, curtailing overeating, involving children in meal preparation, introducing children to new tastes, and engaging in bargain-conscious grocery shopping.

Both types of content allow clients to print materials at a pantry and view materials on a cell phone. Clients can also order extra printed copies for friends, email the content, or post to social media.

Online grocers bringing healthy options to the table

Alice Waters once famously said that 80% of cooking is shopping. Jodi Kahn, chief consumer officer for FreshDirect, agrees. Market research has shown that when shopping for and preparing food, most consumers focus on health and aim to exert control over their food choices, looking for the healthiest foods and fresh, whole ingredients. But consumers face challenges when buying and preparing food, such as time constraints or lack of inspiration to satisfy everyone at the table.

According to Kahn, online grocery stores like FreshDirect can meet these consumer needs. People like to search by ingredient or allergen and prefer to shop when they want to—including on-the-go or in multiple shifts—and then to have groceries delivered. Technology can provide these features while also exposing people to new food options (through product suggestions and coupons) and nutritional information, thus helping them to make better food choices.

Using technology to evaluate nutritional content

Rick Weiss of Viocare Inc. reiterated the idea that studies aiming to find relationships connecting the food supply, diet, and disease should measure intake of whole foods not isolated nutrients. Food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) commonly used by dietitians are time-consuming, costly, and often incorrect because consumers recall food intake inaccurately. VioScreen, a web based FFQ, aims to change the way dietary patters are assessed.

VioScreen is an online tool designed to capture an accurate 90-day dietary history in 20 minutes by collecting information about foods that are regularly consumed. Users complete the assessment before their first visit with a clinician, selecting foods consumed at least once a month and identifying frequency and portion sizes. Weiss reported the screen is more accurate than other FFQs. Food and portion size options are selected by choosing pictures of actual food from among the software's over 1200 images. Reports provide a personalized basis for dietary counseling by comparing observed dietary behaviors to recommended dietary guidelines, suggesting foods to overcome dietary deficiencies and offering guidance to achieve a healthy diet, not just weight control.

Viocare is also building a Mobile Food Intake Tracking Program to make it easier for people to track consumption patterns. Tracking food intake is known to drive weight loss. Rather than reporting food intake by selecting pictures, users photograph or videotape a plate of food using a cell phone and the program classifies the food by type and estimates its volume using a two-step pose estimation followed by a 3D surface reconstruction procedure.

Viocare's Mobile Food Intake Tracking Program estimates the foods and volumes that people eat based on images captured on their cell phones. (Image courtesy of Rick Weiss)


Panel discussion

The panel discussion focused on the role of technology in food selection. The panelists emphasized that it is important for consumers to feel that they are in control of their food choices. To empower consumers, digital platforms focus on personalization. Clarke and Evans noted that food pantry users are highly motivated to use all the ingredients provided by the pantry. Kahn mentioned that FreshDirect could improve its capacity to customize the quantities of foods that can be ordered, as does. Weiss spoke about applications that can be used alongside his food-tracking device to collate favorite recipes. In response to an audience question, Kahn noted regional differences in FreshDirect ordering patterns; interestingly, suburbanites order more fruits and vegetables than do city dwellers. New technologies that monitor eating and movement patterns should be evaluated regularly by companies to comply with regulations and test efficacy, but the panelists noted evaluation can be difficult because of privacy and proprietary issues.

Can choice architecture be used to nudge consumers toward healthy food choices in supermarkets?

Can consumer demand for nutritious food stimulate biodiversity conservation?

How can national nutritional guidelines be aligned with environmental goals?

Should the effects of texture on eating rate be incorporated into recommendations and labeling decisions?

Why have obesity rates stabilized in recent years?

Why is it so difficult to keep weight off? Could the obesity epidemic be controlled by measures aimed to prevent weight gain?

How does the brain encode taste, smell, and flavor?

Which sources are trustworthy when it comes to food and nutritional information?