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TalkingNutrition

Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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How Can Food Packages Help People Make Healthy Choices?

By Rachel Murphy

Making healthy nutrition choices is a challenge for many Americans. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report highlighted the many nutrient shortfalls in the diet of Americans including vitamins A, D, and C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.  In 2010 the facts up front-of-pack (FOP) labeling initiative was implemented to help consumers, make healthy choices. The approach is that there are ‘simple’ icons that show calories, nutrients to limit and an option to highlight the content of nutrients to encourage: shortfall nutrients plus iron and protein. These icons are readily noticeable on many products on grocery store shelves but are they resulting in healthier choices?

A study led by Soederberg Miller tested whether FOP helped people with a wide range of nutrition knowledge select the more healthy product. A novel twist to the study was the use of eye tracking software to determine the amount of attention spent on FOP information.  Overall, the results were discouraging. The ability to choose the healthier product was no better than chance despite using FOP’s.  People tended to over-rely on calories, fat and sodium to determine whether a product was healthy which often led to choosing the product that was lower in nutrients to encourage. There was however a positive association with fiber; people who paid more attention to fiber on the FOP were more likely to correctly select the healthier product.  

The authors concluded that all FOP labels need to include nutrients to encourage (right now it’s optional) to counteract consumers’ focus on calories. This is a tremendous opportunity for the food industry to improve public health by providing products that are rich in nutrients to encourage that can be highlighted on FOP labels. Foods rich in fiber may be particularly helpful for making healthy choices. It’s difficult to make healthy choices, especially for busy parents, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little help?

Main Citation

Soederberg Miller LM, Cassady DL, Beckett LA, Applegate EA, Wilson MD, Gibson TN, Ellwood K. Misunderstanding of front-of-package nutrition information on US food products. PLOS one 2015 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125306

Other Citations

Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Available from: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf

 


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