New study to investigate why people ignore food labels

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

The FDA is planning to conduct a study to uncover barriers to consumers looking at food labels, in a bid to help consumer understanding and use of information provided on packaging.

The labeling of food packaging carried crucial information on nutritional content and ingredients, and it can help consumers to make informed choices about their diets.

In an era when obesity and diet-related ill health is rife, a number of new labeling schemes have been developed to aid understanding – such as Smart Choices logo that has started being used by some major manufacturers and allows for a simple red check mark to be used on foods that meet “strict science-based nutrition criteria” ​based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

But previous studies by the FDA have indicated that the proportion of consumers that actually look at food labels decreased between 1994 and 2002, and younger people seem to be most prone to ignoring them.

In 1994 13 percent of consumers said they never looked at the label the first time they bought a food product, and no significant differences were seen between age groups. But by 2002, 19 percent said they never read the label – and amongst those under 35, 30 percent never looked.

These findings have led the FDA to propose a new voluntary study to be conducted via the internet. The aims are threefold:

To identify attitudes and beliefs to do with health, diet and label usage; to determine relationships between these attitudes and beliefs, and demographics, and actual label use; and to look at the relevance of these attitudes between different demographics, to see whether there are different barriers to label use for different age groups.

The agency says it will use the findings to inform efforts to improve consumer understanding and use of food labels.

It is expected that around 43,000 people would take part in the study. The architects divide the anticipated participants into four groups: Over 35s who report never using labels; over 35s who report regularly using labels; under 35s who report never using labels; and under 35s who report regularly using labels.

Public comment

No date has been given for the start of the study, but before the plans can be finalised the FDA must first allow a period of 60 days public comment on the proposal.

Comments are accepted until October 23. More information is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-20248.pdf

Related topics Regulation Food safety and labeling

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