SURVEY FINDS MORE IN U.S. EAT 'LIGHT'

ATLANTA -- Americans are continuing to increase their consumption of light foods and beverages.A survey conducted by the Gallup Organization for the Calorie Control Council here revealed 90% of adult Americans -- 173 million people -- eat low-calorie, sugar-free and reduced-fat foods and beverages on a regular basis.That's an increase of 9 percentage points over 1993 and a 28% hike over the past three

ATLANTA -- Americans are continuing to increase their consumption of light foods and beverages.

A survey conducted by the Gallup Organization for the Calorie Control Council here revealed 90% of adult Americans -- 173 million people -- eat low-calorie, sugar-free and reduced-fat foods and beverages on a regular basis.

That's an increase of 9 percentage points over 1993 and a 28% hike over the past three years, according to the council, an international association of manufacturers of low-calorie and reduced-fat foods and beverages.

"None of the findings were surprising from our perspective, but they may have been to some other folks," said Russ Lemieux, a spokesman for the council. He scoffed at reports that consumers are paying less attention to their diets.

"We didn't believe that when we first read it and we found plenty of evidence to support the opposite conclusion," he said. "This survey reconfirms the fact Americans are just as concerned with healthy living as ever, and are demonstrating that by consuming low-calorie products."

The most popular "diet" products, he said, are salad dressings, sauces, soft drinks and dairy items. He added there's a greater availability of light products today and, in general, the quality of those products has improved.

"The challenge for the food industry is to develop improved products in some of those other categories where perhaps the technology hasn't yet arrived to produce the kind of good taste in a low-fat product that consumers demand," he said. People want more light products in meats, snacks, chips, dairy items and frozen entrees, Lemieux said, referring to another survey the council did last year.

Sometimes, he said, the decision to use a light product is as simple as having the opportunity. "People are making a concerted effort to find lower-calorie and lower-fat alternatives. If it's a choice of two, they'll go for the lighter product oftentimes. Most people are incorporating light products in what they consider an overall healthy lifestyle," he continued. "So they're not really dieting. They're just simply making lighter choices."

The survey showed 80% of those questioned are more likely or just as likely to consume light foods as they were three years ago; and 70% are more or just as likely to drink light beverages as they were three years ago. Of those surveyed, 77% said they're eating a healthier diet today than three years ago.

Although 90% of those queried consume light products, only 34% eat light foods every day. However, 72% consume them at least once a week. Lemieux added that some of the 90% buying light products use as few as one such item, but most use more. He expects the daily-use numbers and the number of items used to rise.