Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - How Food Corporations Spin Statistics

In an attempt to understand how British family meals have changed over time, frozen foods giant Birds Eye conducted a fascinating research study entitled Changing Plates.  The language in the report is an interesting study in statistics, research, and spin.

For instance, the study opens with this quote:
However, over the last few years, it has become fashionable to proclaim the decline of the British family mealtime. If the doom-laden media reports and social commentators are to be believed, Britain has become a nation that eats unhealthy meals in front of the TV or on the run. The perception is that we have drifted far from the ideal of sitting around the table as a family, to share food, conversation and company – that we no longer see the importance in gathering together on a regular basis in this valuable, family ritual.
and highlights the statistic that 80% of parents say their children eat their evening meals with at least one of their parents...but the table notes that only 19% of respondents say their children eat with Mom, Dad and their siblings - as a family.  Note that this slight change in wording "eats with a family member" to "eats as a family" changes the ratio completely, from the overwhelming majority of 4/5 to only 1/5.

Another interesting quote "61% of us usually eat our main meal at a table, with just a third eating in front of the TV."  This figure reflects a conglomeration of kitchen, dining room, and "other" tables (coffeetables? the study doesn't specify) to create that 61% - and specifically does not clarify whether there is a television at the table.  (The contrasting figure states that 36% eat dinner "on the sofa in front of the television,")  Later, it states that "In fact, almost 4 out of 10 respondents believe the television should be switched off during mealtimes" but this number is from a completely different part of the survey, on table manners - 39% agree that it is bad manners to watch TV during dinner, but don't specify whether they watch it or not.  The only certain statistic regarding eating in front of the television is that 36% or more of respondents - slightly more than a third - eat dinner in front of the TV.

Statistics are very useful tools, but it is important to look at the big picture and past the study summary to find exactly what the collected data represents.

*Interestingly; I was brought to this survey when following up on a report that 26% of children in the UK eat alone in their bedrooms - and Birds Eye Foods was quoted as the source.  The above-linked study is the only one appearing on Birds Eye UK's website - and that statistic is notably absent, nor can I find any other research study on the eating habits of British children that contains that information.

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