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Why the road to health is paved with, often unrealised, good intentions

We regularly hear how the best of intentions do not translate into action. This is nowhere more apparent than in the case of healthy eating, where many fall through the gap between intention and action. Research is ongoing at Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, and University College Cork to try to decipher this intention–behaviour gap in relation to healthy eating. This will give a better understanding of consumer behaviour in the area of health and nutrition. "This understanding addresses a very important objective for national policy makers as well as for the food industry in Ireland and the EU," explains Dr Sinéad McCarthy, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown.

The study, featured in an article in Teagasc’s science magazine TResearch, found that people who plan ahead are more likely to successfully carry out their good intentions compared to those who do not form plans. "Furthermore, individuals need to appraise and monitor their goal striving activities in order to realise their good intentions. This has a feedback mechanism with behaviour. Control and coping mechanisms are essential to maintain effort and good behaviour when faced with obstacles and temptation. These observations reinforce the view that maintaining healthy weight in an obesogenic environment requires more than instinct, it also requires a conscious effort," says Dr McCarthy.

"The findings from this research are in keeping with evidence presented within the research literature and one can conclude that planning, monitoring activities, and coping/self-control are three important features in the transitional space between behavioural intention and behavioural action. A deep understanding of these concepts is undoubtedly important when attempting to facilitate health behaviour change efforts. These three concepts should be considered and addressed as the food industry endeavours to make the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers," explains Dr McCarthy.