Consumer use of nutritional labels declines in US

Posted by James Ferre on 14th August 2008

Nutrition label

The US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has discovered that the use of nutritional labels by American consumers has fallen since the mid nineties.

The only increase in interest by consumers came with regard to fibre.

Packaged and processed foods sold in the United States began carrying standardized nutrition labels in 1994. A standardized ‘Nutrition Facts’ panel, standardized serving sizes and limits on the content and format of health and nutrition claims on the front of packages were elements of the ‘94 legislation. The major goal of the new labeling requirement was to increase access to nutrition information and improve consumers’ ability to make healthy food choices.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently considering changes to the format and content of food nutrition labels to encourage increased use and research was conducted to assist with decisions on changes to the 14-year-old legislation.

The study found consumer use decreased for most label components. “It declined approximately 3 percentage points for the Nutrition Facts panel, 11 percentage points for the ingredient list, and 10 percentage points for the panel’s information about calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium,” the report advised. “Only the use of information about fibre and sugars did not decline over the 10-year period. Use of fibre information increased by 2 percentage points, while that for sugars held steady.”

“This increase in use (of fibre) may be the result of the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, interest in identifying whole grain foods, or an aging population that is more aware of dietary fibre’s health benefits,” wrote the USDA in the report.

Another observation made by the report was the contrast in use across different age groups, with the greatest decrease found amongst 20-29 year olds and people with no college education. “Younger adults and new residents in the country were least likely to have benefited from the public awareness campaigns conducted just after the new labels were introduced, suggesting that decline in use by those cohorts could be due, in part, to a relative lack of knowledge or awareness,” the report advised. “The decline in use observed among the rest of the population suggests some depreciation in the value of the information conveyed since the initial awareness campaigns occurred.”