The authors sought to unpack the paradox between increasing demand for probiotics products against inconclusive scientific evidence about the effectiveness. This paper investigated public understanding of the composition and benefits of probiotic products, measured trust in news media and scientists as sources of information about probiotic products and informational and attitudinal predictors of consumer trust in the news media and scientists.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted amongst a representative sample of 2000 UK consumers. Participants responded to multiple-choice questions and psychometric scales capturing probiotics knowledge, consumption, information seeking behaviour, attitudes to and confidence in the news media and probiotics scientists. Descriptive statistics, one-way ANOVA and hierarchical regression modelling were performed.
Information exposure to probiotics content was highest from traditional media followed by online channels. Levels of confidence in probiotics scientists were higher than in the news media, even though these levels were highest amongst current consumers and lowest amongst non-consumers. Conflicting information, health consciousness and trust in nutrition stakeholders were identified as important predictors of trust in news media and scientists.
This study provides a large-scale nationally representative overview of public attitudes and sentiments related to probiotic products with a focus on attitudes towards the news media and the scientific establishment. The findings suggest a need for better consumer awareness about the state of science around probiotic products, interventions that could enable consumers to discern conflicting evidence or news reports, and critical skills that can render them more resilient to online misinformation.
This project was funded by the Consumer Data Research Centre, an ESRC Data Investment, under project ID CDRC 085, ES/L011840/1; ES/L011891/1. The funders had no role in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, the writing of the report or the decision to submit this article for publication.
Conflict of interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Vijaykumar, S., McCready, J., Graham, P.L. and Morris, D. (2021), "That gut feeling: public perceptions of media coverage and science surrounding probiotic products", British Food Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-02-2021-0143
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