February 2004 // Volume 42 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW2

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An Effective One-Hour Consumer-Education Program on Knowledge, Attitude, and Behavior Toward Functional Foods

An education intervention was designed by Purdue Extension to improve functional food knowledge of Indiana residents. A questionnaire was created to examine the ability of the intervention to change participants' knowledge, attitudes, and dietary behaviors regarding functional foods. A 31-slide PowerPoint presentation, accompanying script, and additional handouts were created for this intervention. In this sample, a 1-hour functional food intervention significantly improved consumers' knowledge regarding functional foods immediately after the intervention and 6 weeks later. Participants' consumption behaviors increased significantly at 6 weeks.

Brenda Killackey-Jones
Department of Health and Kinesiology

Roseann Lyle
Professor, Department of Health and Kinesiology

William Evers
Professor, Department of Foods and Nutrition

Marlene Tappe
Associate Professor, Department of Health and Kinesiology

Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

Interest in functional food has expanded rapidly since the early 90s, as evidenced by the increasing number of scientific meetings on functional foods (Wrick, 1995). Yet there is no category in US dietary regulations for functional foods. The definition proposed by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) states that the ADA recognizes a functional food a, "...any potentially healthful food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains" (ADA, 1999, p. 1278).

A nationwide public opinion survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association (2000) found that only 21 % of American had heard of "functional foods." Most American consumers that had heard of "functional foods" could not give the correct definition. In recent years there has also been a media flood of information for consumers about the diet-disease link. For these reasons, there is a need to provide accurate and current information about functional foods to consumers.

The Functional Foods Educational Intervention

Purdue Extension decided to fill this gap by creating an education intervention, based on recommendations of the American Dietetic Association and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, to educate Indiana residents about functional foods.

The main educational objectives for the program were as follows.

Program participants will be able to:

  1. Identify a healthful diet;

  2. Define "functional food";

  3. Identify Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized health claims;

  4. Demonstrate knowledge of the FDA and Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) regulatory capacity involving functional foods; and

  5. Identify specific functional foods and their possible health benefits.

Program Design

A quasi-experimental design was used to assess the retention of program content. Subjects received the intervention in small groups staggered over a 10-month period in different counties throughout Indiana. Program participants also answered questions about the educational objectives and their consumption behaviors and attitudes towards functional foods.

The program questionnaire was distributed before the education intervention, immediately following the intervention, and again 6 weeks later.

Program Specifics

A 31-slide PowerPoint presentation, accompanying script, and additional handouts were created for this intervention and distributed as a CD to Purdue Extension county educators who led the interventions. Materials were designed based on recommendations of the American Dietetic Association and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Educators also completed a short series of questions eliciting how closely they followed the program instructions, such as whether they used all of the slides, handouts, and script.

The Results

Two hundred eighteen participants attended one of 11 education sessions conducted from March 2001 to January 2002 at Purdue Extension locations across Indiana.

All educators responded that they followed the script most of the time or completely. All educators, but one, reported showing all of the slides in the presentation. All but one group (n=11) reported using all of the handouts included in the program.

The majority (99%) of participants were female. Because women are more responsible for teaching food and health practices in the family, reaching this population was particularly important (IFIC, 2000a). Most (68%) subjects were over 56 years of age. Sixty-four percent were married, 36% had one or two children, and 36% had three or four children. Thirty-seven percent had high school degrees as the highest education attained, and 32% had an annual household income of $20,000 to $40,000.

The hypothesis that a functional food education program would increase knowledge of functional foods was supported. Out of a possible seven correct answers, participants answered approximately five correctly at posttest 1, a significant improvement from approximately four correct answers at the pretest.

After 6 weeks, participants answered approximately 5.25 questions correctly. It should be noted that this improvement also could be due to the influence of other sources of functional food information or the return rate (~53%).

It was hypothesized that a functional food education program would change attitudes regarding functional foods. The only significant change was a slight decrease in score between the two posttests. However, the mean attitude assessment was high on all three assessments, indicating a generally positive attitude towards functional foods.


Based on the results of this study, the following recommendations can be made.

  1. Because this program was successful at improving knowledge, similar education interventions should be employed to address other important nutritional topics.

  2. Education interventions should be designed utilizing reputable sources such as the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.

  3. The intervention developed for this study should be employed with other populations to assess knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors in a more diverse group.

  4. Future studies should focus on older, less educated, and lower income individuals because they had lower knowledge scores on average.


Wrick, K. L. (1995). Consumer issues and expectations for functional foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 35(1&2), 167-173.

American Dietetic Association. (1999). Position of the American Dietetic Association: functional foods. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99, 1278-1285.

American Dietetic Association. (2000). American's food and nutrition attitudes and behaviors -- ADA's nutrition and you. [On-line]. Retrieved December 29, 2000: http://www.eatright.org/pr/2000/010300a.html

International Food Information Council. (2000a). Background of functional foods. [On-line] Available at: http://ific.org/