Consumers seek ‘low-sugar’ claims, but remain confused & distrustful of nutrition labeling

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Sugar Nutrition facts Nutrition

Too much sugar remains a top consumer concern, but confusion about how to read product labels and general distrust of their accuracy means many Americans are at a loss as to how to reduce sugar, a new Healthline survey reveals.

The health information website quizzed 3,000 Americans on their sugar knowledge and what it found prompted the outlet to launch an aggressive campaign to encourage consumers to “break up with sugar.”The educational effort​ provides tips for consumers to improve their diet and several articles do not reflect well on industry. 

Topline survey results

Two out of three survey respondents guessed incorrectly about how much sugar was in typical foods and 70% were “tricked”​ into erroneously thinking that yogurt and a protein bar had less sugar than a Starbucks chocolate croissant and a Dunkin’ Donuts jelly donut, according to the survey.

These mistakes could come down to consumers failing to regularly check the Nutrition Facts labels for “hidden”​ sugar in non-indulgent or savory items, the survey suggests.

Specifically the survey found one-third of respondents regularly check sugar in foods typically considered sweet, such as cake, but are less likely to do so for dressings, sauces and condiments.

But even if consumers do check the Nutrition Facts panel, the survey findings suggest that they would not have the contextual knowledge needed to fully understand the amount of sugar listed.

It found 70% of respondents don’t know how many grams are in a teaspoon of sugar or the calorie equivalent, and 76% did not know how much sugar was “too much.”

If consumers did know these measurements, food and beverage labels still might not help everyone given that 38% of respondents said they don’t trust food labels.

Based on this distrust and knowledge gap, it remains unclear whether consumers will find helpful FDA’s upcoming requirement that Nutrition Facts labels include both total and added sugar beginning in July 2018, Healthline says in its report.

Consumers seek low-sugar claims

Despite confusion and distrust around labels, some consumers use them to find products with little or no sugar.

“More than half, 56%, said while shopping they prioritize the label designation ‘no sugar added’ and 32% looked for ‘sugar free’ foods,"​ Healthline reports.

Healthline’s sugar reduction campaign

Given these findings, Healthline decided to launch an aggressive campaign to help consumers “break up with sugar.”

The campaign includes a series of articles, infographics, social marketing tools and multimedia elements.

While the campaign is aimed at helping Americans, aspects of it do so at the expense of food and beverage manufacturers and marketers.

Several articles characterize sugar as “toxic”​ and “deadly,”​ and compare it to cocaine in terms of addictiveness. Other articles compare industry’s marketing to that of Big Tobacco and describe it as a “predatory business”​ that targets vulnerable children.

The campaign also teaches consumers how to select and prepare better-for-you options, which could help the marketing efforts of up and coming healthier brands.  

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