Lack of motivation and attention stand in the way of healthier food choices, EU research

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st December 2011

A lack of motivation and attention of consumers prevents nutritional information on food labels from impacting positively on food choices, a European study has found.

The study was part of the ‘Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life’ (FLABEL) project, which provides research on consumer behaviour and nutrition labels to help guide industry players and policy-makers in Europe.

The FLABEL consortium is comprised of academic experts, retailers, and not-for-profit organizations in the European Union.

The EU-wide nutrition labelling audit was carried out in 84 retail stores and examined more than 37,000 products of five product categories, sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, chilled pre-packed ready meals, carbonated soft drinks, and yoghurts.

The FLABEL research found that 85 per cent of the products carried nutrition information on the back of the pack, and 48 per cent on the front of the pack. The most widespread back-of-pack format was the tabular or linear listing of calorific value and nutrient composition at 84 per cent; whereas nutrition claims and Daily Intake Guides were the most prevalent forms of front of pack nutrition information, both averaging 25 per cent.

The FLABEL research found that food packages held consumers’ visual attention for “very short periods”, with the average attention to elements of nutrition labels being between 25 and 100 milliseconds, as measured by sophisticated eye-tracking equipment.

When information was provided on key nutrients (i.e. fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt) and energy, most consumers were able to correctly rank products according to healthiness. Additional information such as Daily Intake Guides or Traffic Lights only marginally improved the accuracy of this ranking, the researchers said.

FLABEL’s Scientific Advisor, Professor Klaus Grunert, of Aarhus University in Denmark, said, “The research suggests that the most promising way to increasing consumers’ attention to, and use of, nutrition information on food labels, is to provide nutritional information in a consistent way.

“When prompted, consumers were able to identify which products were healthier, but they did not use this information to choose which product they prefer. A lack of consumer motivation, therefore, is one factor standing in the way of healthy food choices resulting from nutrition labeling,” Professor Grunert added.