Food panel releases first study results

Eating out appears to be a once-a-week occasion for most Manitobans.

We have strong views about local food but differing definitions of what “local” means.

Most of us have never eaten buckwheat, hemp or flax-based foods.

And while a little over 40 per cent of Manitobans buy organic food, an equal number don’t think organic is worth its higher price.

Those are just a few of the diverse findings gleaned from research now underway at the University of Manitoba asking 4,000 Manitobans about their opinions, preferences and experiences related to food and health.

The first three of what will be a series of summary reports were recently released by the Manitoba Consumer Monitor Food Panel. The long-term study began in February 2011 with online surveys of registered panelists from across the province, and is designed to help government, producers, processors and food product makers develop programs, policies and food products, said project co-ordinator Jocelyne Gaudet, a home economist.

“This is a focus on what consumers need and want,” she said. “Our hope is that the data will be used to foster a stronger healthier Manitoba.”

The study, the first of its kind in the province, will also examine the impact of events such as outbreaks of food borne illness or new research findings on food, and analyze regional differences and consumer sub-groups.

The newly released summary reports include a survey asking general questions about food choices and health, one that delves into concerns related to food safety, and another inquiring about food choices around local and organic foods. Results of a fourth survey examining attitudes to functional food products such as probiotics and plant sterols are forthcoming.

Upcoming surveys will ask about people’s access to food, cooking abilities, sodium consumption, nutrition and health topics, and body image perceptions.

All were designed in consultation with researchers and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives staff, but “in the future we will start to ask commodity groups and other organizations as to what would interest them,” said Gaudet.

About three-quarters of survey respondents are over 45 years of age and female, with 50 per cent born from 1946 to 1965, and there’s an equal split between urban and rural residents. Researchers would like to expand that age range, and target both a younger audience and more men.

“We are continuously recruiting,” Gaudet said.

Participants, who must be 18 years old and Manitoba residents, are sent an online survey every other month. Everyone who completes a survey is entered into a draw for grocery-store gift cards valued over $5,000 per survey. Panelists can request to do written surveys if they prefer.

The food panel is a Faculty of Human Ecology project funded by Growing Forward. That funding will last until March 2013, and researchers hope to find additional dollars to continue past that date.

All the data gathered from the surveys is publicly available and can be found online at www.mcmfoodpanel.ca or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MCMFP

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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