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Consumer Nutrition and Health Survey in Malaysia with special Reference to Beef and Lamb Consumption

Project start date: 01 January 1996
Project end date: 01 October 1998
Publication date: 01 October 1998
Project status: Completed
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Although a number of surveys have been undertaken in Asian countries relating to consumer preferences, purchasing and consumption behaviours in relation to beef and lamb, there is very little known about how concerns for health and nutrition interface with consumption behaviour or how strongly attitudes, preferences and behaviours in this area are influenced by core cultural values.

In western countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom where beef and/or lamb have traditionally been a mainstay of the diet, intakes have been falling over recent decades partly because of concerns with the role that diet, and particularly dietary fat, can play in influencing the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension and certain cancers. In many Asian countries, particularly the wealthier, more economically advanced countries, including Malaysia, coronary heart disease, hypertension and certain cancers are now the major causes of death with rates in line with those of western societies. In other countries, concern with low iron intakes also affords an opportunity for promotion of beef and lamb but at this stage little is known about consumer perceptions in this area.

In response to this, health authorities in these countries are turning their attention to the implementation of policies and strategies to reduce chronic disease. Thus dietary guidelines, education campaigns and intervention strategies to promote the more traditional low fat/high fibre diets are being developed in many Asian countries. Although meat consumption and imports to Asian markets generally continue to rise, there is evidence of a slowing of the increasing demand in some of the more advanced economies. An understanding of consumer health and nutrition knowledge and concerns, perceptions of the benefits and disadvantages of certain foods and sources of information about nutrition will enable the Australian beef and lamb industries to develop proactive and targeted strategies for positioning and marketing of Australian beef and lamb in the coming decades.

This report presents data concerning food purchasing and consumption behaviours; attitudes to a range of food categories, knowledge and perceptions about risk factors for major chronic diseases; sources of nutrition information and cultural values in 468 respondents from Malaysia. The three major ethnic groups were represented (Malay, 168; Chinese, 174; Indian, 126). The same survey was also conducted in Japan, Korea and Taiwan and the results are reported in separate documents. A summary document comparing these three countries is also available. The key findings from the study are outlined below:

The average frequency of beef consumption for all Malaysians was just less than once a week for lunch and dinner. As might be expected, the higher income groups consumed more beef than lower income groups. The Malay group were the most likely to be in the highest intake group for both men and women. Sixty-one percent of Chinese and 73% of the Indians did not consume beef. Most of the Indians did not consume beef for religious reasons. Frequency of consumption of lamb in Malaysia was around once per fortnight for all respondents surveyed. Lamb was rated quite low on "liking" reflecting this but was rated higher on "health" although this rating was lower than the other protein sources. The Indian group were more likely to be in the highest consumers of lamb. Around half of the sample indicated that they did not consume lamb. Frequency of eating breakfast away from home was much higher than in many western nations and the rate was often higher than for dinner.

For all three ethnic groups, freshness, price, food safety, taste and nutritional content were the most important factors influencing food selection. Taste and convenience were more important to men while weight control and cooking knowledge were more important to females. Seafood, soy and chicken outrated beef slightly in both the "liking" and "healthiness" scales, with beef rating similarly to pork. With.a few exceptions, the rating of the "healthiness" of a food category mirrored closely the rating for liking" . The benefits of beef consumption were perceived to be related to energy / power/stamina issues, and to the supply of protein. Iron was mentioned by only 1 % of respondents. The major disadvantages of beef were seen as fat content and cholesterol.

One major problem noted for beef among one quarter of Malay respondents was that beef was related to the onset of high blood pressure. This did not feature among the other ethnic groups nor significantly for the other protein-based foods. Contamination problems with E. Coli were mentioned by a small number of respondents (6%; mostly women). Mad cow disease was mentioned by 2% of respondents. For lamb, very few respondents listed advantages, however, protein was mentioned by 15%. Cholesterol and fat content were seen to be major disadvantages. When perceived benefits for beef/ lamb and their alternatives were grouped into eight to ten general categories, the resp onses mainly related to supply of specific nutrients good nutrition generally. The most common problems listed overall included high in fat or cholesterol and bad for health in general. A number of cultural values were examined in relation to beef and lamb consumption. Factors such as hedonism, self-direction and stimulation predicted higher consumption of beef. In contrast, lamb consumption was linked to higher conformity scores.

In response to questions about health concerns and knowledge, respondents expressed high concern about health but a slightly lower concern with weight control issues. Most believed that the food they ate affected their health but the link between food intake and weight control was not perceived to be as close as in many western societies, particularly among the Chinese. Diet had a high profile as a risk factor for overweight, but was seen to be less important in the other major chronic disease conditions such as heart disease, iron deficiency and bowel cancer. When asked how important it was to know about nutrition, respondents felt it was "quite" important on average. About half felt they already had access to sufficient information. Most respondents said they would look to the media as a source of accurate nutrition information, followed by health professionals and family and friends. In line with this, most information seen in the past year had come from the media. The messages seen generally related to eating more vegetables and fruit, (and to a lesser degree calcium and iron) and less fat, cholesterol, salt, sugar and meat. Thus the messages were similar to those common in western countries.

For the media, the major sources of information were television, newspapers and radio. Magazines were less popular sources overall, even among the in females. Some 92 men and 98 females remembered messages from the media with about twothirds claiming to have taken some action to change their diet. Food choice is a complex behaviour influenced by a wide range of factors including amongst other things culture, food availability, media influences, attitudes, education, age and knowledge. This report summarises the effects of some of these individual influences on consumption. Multivariate analyses will identify the key predictors of consumption of, and liking for beef and lamb compared to alternative foods.

More information

Project manager: Michael Lee
Primary researcher: CSIRO