Nutrition Labeling Helps Guide Consumers
January 23, 2013

Nutrition Label Changes May Mean Better Dietary Choices

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new study suggests changing nutrition labeling could help guide consumers to making better dietary choices.

The Nutrition Facts label first came into being 20 years ago, helping consumers see important information like serving size, calories per serving, nutrients per serving, etc. However, research shows consumers miscalculate the number of calories and the nutritional content of products that have two or more servings per container.

Researchers writing in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say two nutrition-labeling changes could have the potential to make nutritional content information easier to understand. These changes include a dual-column information layout that details single serving and total package information, as well as an area declaring nutritional information for the entire container.

The team performed an online study with more than 9,000 participants to measure consumers' accuracy in using modified versions of the Nutrition Facts label, and to understand their perceptions of how useful, trustworthy, and helpful the label was.

"FDA commissioned this experimental study to look at whether different ways of presenting the serving size and nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label might help consumers," Amy M. Lando of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement. "In particular we were interested in studying products that have two servings per container but that are customarily consumed in a single eating occasion."

Study participants evaluated nine modified Nutrition Facts labels and the current label format for four fictitious products. The labels were classified into three groups.

The first group of labels used single-column format to display information for products with two servings per container. The second group used versions of a dual-column format to display information for products with two servings per container, while the third used single-column formats that listed the contents of the product as a single, large serving.

The team also tested whether changes in formatting, such as enlarging the font size for the declaration of "Calories," and removing the information on the number of calories from fat. They also changed the wording for the serving size declaration, helping consumers better determine the calories and other nutrient information for a single serving as well as for the entire package.

Researchers determined participants could more accurately assess the number of calories or amount of fat or other nutrients per serving, and in the entire package when a single, large serving per container format or a dual-column format was used.

"This research is just one step in understanding how some potential food label modifications might help consumers make better decisions. Ideally, we would like to see how these labels perform in a more realistic setting, such as in a grocery store, with actual packaged foods as opposed to large labels on a computer screen," Serena C. Lo, PhD, of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in the statement.

She said the Nutrition Facts label is the only tool consumers can use to make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices. She added it is a valuable tool so it is important to continue exploring ways to support effective use of the label for these purposes.