Consumers overrate front-of-pack low-carb claims: Study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition facts panel Nutrition

Consumers tend to misinterpret front-of-pack low-carbohydrate claims as having greater health and weight loss implications than indicated by the Nutrition Facts panel, suggests new research.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior,​ examined how consumers interpreted a front-of-pack labeling claim that a product is low in carbohydrates, either accompanied or unaccompanied by the Nutrition Facts (NF) panel.

In an online survey of 4,320 people, they found that participants who only saw the fronts of packages rated products bearing low-carbohydrate claims as more helpful for weight management and lower in calories than the same products without a claim. Those who saw bread with a low-carbohydrate claim also rated it as more healthful than those who saw no claim.

“The results of this study, coupled with previous food label research, show that consumers interpret claims on food labels to have meaning beyond the scope of the claim itself,” ​the researchers wrote. “…Misperceptions about products bearing claims may lead consumers to make poorly informed choices that can influence their nutrition status.”

However, when the Nutrition Facts panel was available and products had the same nutrition profile, participants rated products with low-carbohydrate claims the same as those with no claim.

However, the authors urged caution in assuming that the presence of the Nutrition Facts panel diminishes any misleading effect of front-of-pack claims.

“Although exposure to the NF has the potential for mitigating inappropriate benefits attributed to products claiming to be low carbohydrate, previous consumer research suggests that when a food product carries a front-of-package claim, consumers are less likely to turn the package over to look at the NF panel,” ​they wrote.

The authors wrote that although there is debate about the healthfulness of low-carbohydrate diets, in 2005, 87 percent of Americans were aware of low-carb diets, 34 percent thought they were healthy, and 17 percent had tried one in the past year.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Volume 42, Number 5, 2010, pp. 315-320

“Effect of Low-carbohydrate Claims on Consumer Perceptions about Food Products’ Healthfulness and Helpfulness for Weight Management”

Authors: Judith Labiner-Wolfe, Chung-Tung Jordan Lin, Linda Verrill.

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