WASHINGTON — Among the nearly two out of three consumers who say they’re feeling very or somewhat stressed, half report consuming less healthy food and beverages. And those more likely to say they’re very or somewhat stressed are women, Hispanic people and those with lower household incomes.

That’s according to the annual Food & Health Survey of US consumers from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) released June 20.

When it comes to defining “healthy,” the 2024 IFIC survey found fewer respondents included the term “natural” and more of them used “limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives” in their criteria. Overall, the top three criteria for defining a healthy food were “fresh,” “good source of protein” and “low in sugar.”

Personal food and beverage choices came in eighth on a list of 10 stress factors survey respondents were asked to rank. Nos. 1 and 2 were managing personal finances and the economy in general, followed by health and medical issues, personal relationships, work or school, US politics and change in employment status. Managing personal finances was among the top two stress sources across all generations (baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z).

Each generation has observed an increase in the cost of food and beverages during the past year, with 90% noting either a major or minor jump in cost, and older generations being more likely to notice it than younger ones, the IFIC survey said.

Confidence in the safety of the US food supply has dropped, according to the survey. Respondents who said they were very or somewhat confident in the safety of the food supply fell to 62% this year from 70% last year, while those who said they were not too confident rose to 26%. Survey respondents who indicated they were more confident in the safety of the US food supply were older, had higher household incomes, men and those who reported being less stressed, according to the survey.

When it comes to advice about which foods to eat and which to avoid, survey respondents said they trust health care professionals and registered dietitians more than other sources such as a scientific study, a government agency or a food company or manufacturer.

Eight in 10 respondents (79%) said they consider whether a food is processed before they buy it, and most (63%) said they try to avoid or sometimes avoid processed food. About one-third were familiar with the term “ultra-processed food,” with those most familiar being the younger generations, college graduates, those with higher household income, children younger than 18, those in excellent or very good self-reported health and those who have followed a specific eating style in the past year, the survey noted.

Taste continues to have the greatest impact on decisions about whether to buy food and beverages, with price in second place. Convenience also plays an important role in these decisions, but its impact in the latest survey was lower than in 2023. Most likely to find healthfulness important were boomers, those with higher household incomes and Asian Americans.

IFIC’s 19th annual online survey involved 3,000 US consumers ages 18 to 80 and took place March 18-24, 2024. It was conducted by Greenwald Research via Dynata’s consumer panel. Results were weighted by age, education, gender, race/ethnicity and region.