Objectives: For effective healthy eating promotion, it is necessary to understand the attitudes towards and beliefs about nutrition of the general public. The objective of this study was to provide data on attitudes towards eating a healthy diet and the perceived need to alter eating habits from a random sample of adults in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, using a self-administered questionnaire.
Design: Cross-sectional survey using a self-administered attitudinal questionnaire on beliefs and attitudes to healthy eating.
Setting: The survey was carried out between October 1997 and October 1999 in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.
Subjects: A randomly selected sample of 1256 adults from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland completed the attitudinal questionnaire.
Results: A majority of subjects (62%) perceived that they make conscious efforts to eat a healthy diet either most of the time or quite often, while just over half (52%) agreed that they do not need to make changes to their diet as it is healthy enough. Subjects most likely to make conscious efforts to try to eat a healthy diet were females, older subjects (51-64 years) and those with the highest intakes of fruit and vegetables and lowest quartile of fat (% food energy). When self-assessed adequacy of fruit and vegetables was examined, two-thirds of the total sample felt they ate too little fruit while just one-third felt they ate too little vegetables.
Conclusion: Results of the present study, in general, revealed good agreement between attitude and behaviour with respect to healthy eating. This suggests that people appear to be reasonably accurate at evaluating their own diet in terms of how healthy it is. In terms of the two food groups examined in this study, some optimistic bias was evident for vegetables but not for fruit. It may be useful therefore to assess attitudes and beliefs about healthy eating by way of examining attitudes to such food groups individually.