People who read food labels have healthier diets than those who don't pay attention to such information, a new study shows.
Researchers analysed data from the 2005-06 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that 61.6% of respondents said they read the nutrition facts panels, 51.6% examine the list of ingredients, 47.2% read the serving size and 43.8% review health claims at least sometimes when deciding whether to buy a food product.
There were significant differences between label readers and non-readers in their intake of total kilojoules total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, dietary fibre and sugars, the researchers said.
Modify food labels
"If the food label is to have a greater public health impact, rates of use will likely need to be increased among adults," commented study author Nicholas J. Ollberding, a professor in the Department of Health and Behaviour Studies, Teachers College, at Columbia University.
Low rates of label use also suggest that the food label may need to be modified, Ollberding said.
Suggested changes to the current label "include bolding kilojoule information, reporting the total nutrient intake for foods likely to be consumed in a single sitting, and using more intuitive labeling that requires less cognitive processing such as a red, yellow and green 'traffic light' signs on the front of the label," he said.
The food label alone is not enough to change behaviour, but it can be a valuable tool in combating obesity and diet-related chronic disease, he concluded.
The study appears in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Another study in the same issue found that putting "Fuel Your Life" tags on shelves of healthy food items in an on-campus convenience store had a positive effect on college students' food buying habits. (August 2010)
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