Scientists suggest that foods full of fat, sugar and salt change the way genes work and even swapping them for fish, fruit and vegetables cannot turn back the clock.

The Rainbow Nation Health Monitor study, held to determine attitudes towards nutrition, health and wellness, weight profile and levels of risk for cardiovascular disease, found that almost a third of people surveyed often eat less than required.

And this affects their intake of nutritious foods, with 55 percent saying it is more important that food is filling than healthy. Some 47 percent of people claim they cannot afford to eat the correct kinds of foods and 71 percent feel that healthy foods are more expensive. However, 78 percent claim they are more productive when eating healthier foods.

Despite a less than perfect attitude to nutrition, health and wellness, 91 percent of South Africans feel alive and energetic – even though 58 percent get very little, or no, exercise. Further, 39 percent admit they do not eat enough vegetables and fruit and, overall, South Africans eat less than half the recommended daily amounts of vegetables and fruit.

The study, commissioned by Nestlé, was conducted by TNS South Africa, a marketing and social insights company, among a sample of 3 001 people aged 16 and above across all parts of the country in mid-2011.

Most people say they get enough sleep but they tend to eat and drink whatever tastes good. They believe it is important to eat food full of vitamins and that healthy eating improves their appearance and the way they feel about themselves.

The study divided people into six main groups:

* The Invincibles have the poorest behaviours and attitudes – eight out of 10 get very little exercise and four out of 10 smoke. They often eat junk food and prefer fried food. Taste is paramount and they are aware that they do not eat the correct types of food. They say they are too young to worry about their health and they have a poor knowledge of health and nutrition. They have a low intake of vegetables, fruit, dairy and water, and a higher intake of fats, sugars and beer compared to healthier-mindset segments

* The Unconcerned say they choose sustaining foods that keep them going – although taste is still key. They know a little more about health and nutrition but are not really interested and have difficulty assessing food quality. Some 62 percent say they get little or no exercise and have a lower than average intake of vegetables, fruit, dairy and water. Fats, sugars and beer still feature more prominently in their diet than average.

* The Middle of the Road group eats what tastes good – if it is healthy, that’s a bonus. They are aware of health issues and claim to be moving away from junk and fried foods – but taste still outweighs health benefits. They have some interest and knowledge of health and nutrition, and the impact of healthy foods on their looks and making them feel good is starting to become important. But they are unwilling to change their lifestyle for these benefits. They eat less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, dairy, water and fruits.

* The Health Active group chooses low-fat options, watching calories and avoiding artificial ingredients. They are weight-conscious, read food labels and buy foods that show health benefits. Taste is still important but healthier cooking options begin to appear. They have a high interest in health and nutrition. They take supplements but do not exercise enough – 55 percent get little or no exercise.

* The Health Managers are the most health conscious. They are selective about what they eat and shop at healthier stores. They prefer healthier cooking methods and have a sophisticated knowledge of health and nutrition. They choose food and beverages to boost energy levels, physical and mental performance and buy into food health properties. They are likely to take supplements and exercise – only 29 percent get little or no exercise. They have the highest intake of dairy, vegetables, fruit and water but this is still below the daily recommendations. They have the lowest salt and fat consumption. They actively seek out health and wellness information and read food labels.

* The Easy Lifers – those with a frenetic, outgoing and social lifestyle. They prefer takeaways and eating out at restaurants. They do not eat enough vegetables and fruit and tend to eat more than they should – food that is filling is important. Six out of 10 use the microwave to cook food to support their convenience lifestyle. They have the lowest intake of vegetables of all the groups. They feel that they are too young to worry about their health and have a poor knowledge of health and nutrition. They compensate for their relatively unhealthy lifestyle by dieting and taking supplements. Seven out of 10 do not exercise and six out of 10 are smokers. They are the most likely to pass on their poor eating habits to their children. - Daily News