Call for more education on Canadian nutrition labeling

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Percent, Nutrition

Most Canadians use on-pack nutrition labeling as their primary source of nutritional information but many need to interpret it better, according to a study from the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition.

The study, 2009 Tracking Nutrition Trends: A 20 Year History, found that 68 percent of Canadians reported using product labels to look for specific ingredients, best before dates or the nutrition facts panel, and labels have consistently been the top source of nutrition information over the past two decades. However, the organization said that the rising incidence of obesity in Canada provides evidence that consumers need better understanding of how to use nutrition information to improve health.

President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition Francy Pillo-Blocka called on the food industry as well as government to increase efforts to educate the public on how to interpret nutrition labels.

She said in a statement: “Based on the findings of this 20 year report, CCFN is calling on government, health associations, the food industry and all health related sectors to step up education of food nutrition labelling to help all Canadians have a better understanding of what their food contains.”

The 2009 online survey, which covered 2,003 people across Canada, found that although 80 percent of respondents considered themselves to be somewhat or very knowledgeable about nutrition, a quarter said they had poor or fair health and eating habits.

“Canadian food labels were developed with a large number of stakeholders to ensure information is presented fully and clearly to consumers. The food labels have been well received by Canadians and now the next step is to help us better understand all of the valuable information on the label,”​ Pillo-Blocka said.

Among several areas of confusion highlighted by the survey, the study found that Canadians are particularly confused when it comes to types of fat. Forty percent of respondents erroneously thought that non-hydrogenated margarine contains less fat than butter, and nearly two-thirds thought that the amount of cholesterol they eat is a major factor affecting blood cholesterol.

According to the CCFN, “The truth is cholesterol in foods has little or no impact on most people's cholesterol levels. It's your intake of saturated and trans fats that matters most - both types raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol.”

After the 68 percent of respondents who said they received most of their nutritional information from product labels, 51 percent cited the internet as their number one source, while 46 percent named books, magazines and newspapers.

The study also found that more than half of Canadians thought they had good or excellent eating habits in 2008, with 76 percent of those saying it was due to eating breakfast every day.

Twenty-six percent said they had poor eating habits last year, up from 15 percent in 1989.

Related topics: Suppliers, Food safety and labeling

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