The overall aim of this research was to explore consumer acceptability of a hypothetical everyday product containing an active ingredient that could prevent bowel cancer. Four focus groups of women between 50-70 years were convened. Only two of these were told what the active ingredient added to the yogurts was (an iron chelator which removes excess iron from the bowel). This was to enable us to explore to extent to which describing the process by which bowel cancer may be prevented altered perceptions about the product to which it had been added. A short summary of the research results can be found below.
Participant perceptions of foods labelled as healthy
The participants in our focus groups were:
- Very sceptical of whether food labelled as ‘healthy’ was actually healthier than other similar foods.
- Unsure how ‘healthy’ should be defined.
- Felt labels needed to be read carefully as food marketed as healthy often included hidden unhealthy ingredients (e.g. product may include less fat but more sugar than the standard alternative).
- Predicted that healthy foods would taste worse than ‘unhealthy’ foods.
- Believed that the healthiest foods were unprocessed.
Participant interest in foods labelled as healthy
- Increased as participants grew older.
- Was associated with weight loss and attempts to lose weight.
- Increased if the product claimed to prevent a condition which they thought they were at high risk of developing.
- Some participants indicated that they had no interest in such foods
Incentives to purchase the product
- Special offers were a big incentive to purchase.
- There were mixed responses about participants’ willingness to pay more for foods labelled as ‘healthy’.
- Whether participants thought the product would taste nice, and whether they thought they would enjoy it, was likely to decisions to purchase.
Bowel cancer knowledge
- Knowledge was gained from a variety of sources e.g. personal experience, word of mouth and public health campaigns (which include bowel cancer testing kits, television/radio advertising).
- Participants associated genetics, increased age, male gender and lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking, poor diet) with an increased likelihood of developing bowel cancer.
- Participants recognised the importance of early diagnosis for improved prognosis and the embarrassment associated with consulting a doctor
Participants’ thoughts about putting additives in food to prevent bowel cancer
- Participants were more reluctant to consume food that had been ‘interfered with’/’doctored’, especially if they felt that the additional ingredient was ‘artificial’ or ‘chemical’ rather than ‘natural’.
- ‘Natural’ ingredients were preferred or considered healthier.
- Some worried about the loss of individual choice if an iron chelator was added to staple food products (as a result of government intervention).
- Others thought that if there were benefits, this would justify the government putting them into staple foods.
- Participants in the groups that knew how the product worked (removing excess iron), were more worried about losing useful iron. As a result, these participants were less likely to purchase the product or recommend it to others.
A need for Research
- Participants were very suspicious of the product’s ability to decrease the incidence of bowel cancer or to rid the body of excess iron, especially of how these claims related to them personally.
- They thought that much more research was required to verify the manufacturer’s claims
- But, some would be more inclined to trust of claims supported by a GP or the NHS.
- Participants also wanted to reassured about dosages and potential side effects, especially for children.
Once again, thank you very much for participating in our research. If you are worried about bowel cancer, the following link may be of use: https://www.beatingbowelcancer.org/