BACKGROUND: Unhealthy dietary patterns are highly prevalent in Western countries, and they have been associated with depression, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Many dietary interventions have been developed to promote healthier dietary behavior, yet most do not achieve the intended dietary change. This study aims to provide a better understanding of what Dutch consumers perceive as a healthy diet, how this relates to the current Dutch nutrition guidelines, and their preferences for how to eat more healthily. This is an essential consideration for the development of tailored interventions aimed to help people adopt changes in their dietary behavior.
METHODS: Seventy-eight participants filled in an online questionnaire containing both open-ended and closed-ended questions. The qualitative data was analyzed using content analysis resulting in a classification scheme. Two students then identified to which category each part of a participant's answer belonged.
RESULTS: For both the perception of a healthy diet and how to eat healthily, four major categories and a residual category were identified: dietary patterns, food processing, food products, content/nutrients, and non-food. These major categories consisted of several categories. The results showed that how people perceived a healthy diet was mostly represented at the level of food product (vegetables and fruit) and the content/nutrient level (carbohydrates), whereas how they would like to eat healthily was mostly represented at the level of food processing (preparation), food product (vegetables), and dietary patterns (amount).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings are mostly in line with how the Dutch dietary guidelines are communicated ("product level"). However, consumers primarily mention single aspects instead of naming the guidelines as a whole. Health policymakers can use this insight in future communications regarding the guidelines to the general public. A challenge for future (eHealth) diet interventions is how to implement and tailor dietary information that optimally connects with the perceptions of the target population.