Nutrition labels help with weight loss regardless of exercise

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Developing the habit of reading nutritional information on food packages can significantly help with weight loss whether or not someone exercises, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs.

Bidisha Mandal, associate professor at Washington State University’s School of Economic Sciences, examined exercise and label-reading habits and their impact on efforts to lose or control weight. Using a sample of 3,706 middle-aged individuals who took part in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 2002 to 2006, Mandal found that the greatest weight loss success rates were achieved by those individuals who changed their habits from reading nutrition labels but not exercising, to continuing to read food labels and introducing exercise at least three times a week.

Independent of exercise

However, she also found a statistically significant reduction in body mass for those who developed the habit of label-reading, but continued to not exercise – in fact even more so than those who exercised but did not read labels.

Mandal said that the results underscore the value of Nutrition Facts panels, as well as add to the case for including calorie counts on menus and vending machines.

"I'm finding that reading labels is useful,"​ Mandal said. "People who are trying to lose weight want to know what they're buying and preparing and many do better if they use labels to find what they need to know."

The only marginally negative result was found for those who were originally not reading labels but exercising who subsequently switched to doing neither.

“The strongest positive significant result was seen among those who changed their behavior from reading ​[nutrition labels] but not exercising to continuing to read and adding regular vigorous physical activity to their regimens,”​ Mandal wrote.

Women were more likely to read food labels than men, she found, and were also more successful than men at losing weight.

Source: The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Vol. 44, No. 3, 2010, pp. 516-527

“Use of Food Labels as a Weight Loss Behavior”

Author: Bidisha Mandal.

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