Dietary advice emphasizes that some dietary fats increase the risk of heart disease, whereas other dietary fats decrease risk if they are substituted for more risk-increasing fats. Thus, it is important that consumers understand the differences between dietary fats. Existing evidence in the United States suggests troublesome consumer misunderstanding. As part of its continuing effort to promote public health, the US Food and Drug Administration measured consumer awareness and understanding of dietary fats in its Health and Diet Survey- 2004 Supplement. After cognitive interviews and pretests of the questionnaire, telephone interviews of randomly selected noninstitutionalized adults aged 18 years and older in the United States were conducted between October 12, 2004, and January 21, 2005. Using cross-sectional data collected from 1,798 respondents who completed the survey, this study estimated the prevalence of awareness and understanding of six dietary fats among US adults and identified the characteristics of adults with different levels of awareness and understanding. Descriptive analyses were used, along with logistic regression models, developed to accommodate the survey design and responses. There was a wide disparity among US consumers in their awareness and understanding. Saturated fat was most recognized and understood, whereas awareness of other fats was much lower. Most importantly, having heard of a fat did not necessarily mean understanding its relationship to heart disease. Only half of those who had heard of trans fat and n-3 fatty acids understood that the fats raise and lower the risk of heart disease, respectively. Only a minority of those who had heard of partially hydrogenated oil and polyunsaturated fat knew the fats raise and lower the risk of heart disease, respectively. Many admitted being uncertain about how a fat relates to the risk of heart disease. College or more-educated adults had better awareness and understanding. Nonwhite adults were less knowledgeable. Findings on the awareness and understanding and how they are related to individual characteristics can inform deliberations about educational messages, nutrition programs, and food labeling about dietary fats to promote public health.
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