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People Don’t Read Food Labels as Much as They Claim

When making an attempt to eat healthy, you may feel bogged down with all the “rules” that are involved in improving the way you eat. This bogged down feeling may get even worse when you are forced to put your knew found nutrition knowledge to the test the next time you go to the grocery store.

Although food labels have been placed on the majority of  foods you may find there, they aren’t necessarily the most helpful. After all, you have to take additional time to flip the package around, scan the label for the information you are looking for, and then compare and contrast each individual nutrient with similar products around to make sure you are making the right food choice for you and your family.

Perhaps that’s why so many people forgo the nutrition facts label all together. According to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts, people don’t really look at the label as much as they say they do. In fact, of the 33% of individuals who stated that they almost always looked at the total calorie content, only 9% actually did based on eye-tracking data pulled from the study. Additionally, only 1% of study participants took the time to look at the rest of the label despite claiming that they did so much more frequently.

Although the food label is an incredibly beneficial tool in choosing the foods we eat, it’s not much help if it’s not easily accessible or usable to the majority of the population. This is why so much recent attention has been focused on revamping the traditional food label. According to the study, individuals were more likely to look at food labels placed in prominent view.

Additionally, information placed at the top of the label was more likely to be looked at than the information placed at the bottom.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that very few of the study participants looked at the entire food label, approximately 70% did manage to look at one nutrient listed. The most popular of these components being serving size, calories, total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat information. Perhaps this means that a more concise label providing information on these specific nutrients placed in a prominent location would be more beneficial to those seeking out healthy food alternatives.

The Institute of Medicine agrees and has been suggesting an Energy Star rating system for our food to help consumers more easily identify a few of the more dynamic nutrients people are interested in. This nutrition cheat sheet would be placed on the front of food packaging to make identifying what is in our foods that much easier.

No matter what new food label lay on the horizon, it’s important to know what is in your food. If adding a simplified label to the front of a food package can help individuals make better decisions about what they are eating, it’s a positive step in the right direction. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that a food label, big or small, is just a tool. You still need to know healthy eating basics, label or not, to be a healthy, happy eater.

November 1st, 2011

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