Dieters are better at reading food labels, study finds

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th May 2014
People on a diet are better at reading food labels, a study has found

People who attend slimming groups are more likely to read and understand the nutritional information given on food compared with those who are not on a diet, according to a study from Lancaster University.

The study, which was presented on 8 May 2014 at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference, also found that being satisfied with one’s weight had a direct correlation to an overall sense of wellbeing.

Author of the study, Audrey Spencer from Lancaster University, said this was likely because dieters read food labels more frequently giving them a better understanding of what might constitute healthy food and confidence about making the right food choices.

“Reading labels informs people about what is in their food and helps them to make decisions about what they will and won’t eat,” Ms Spencer said. “As a result, choosing not to eat unhealthy foods can help them to lose weight and this has an effect on their overall wellbeing,” she said.

Confusion remains about what ‘healthy’ foods are

Although dieters seem relatively well-informed about what is in their food, Ms Spencer admitted that there was still confusion among the general population over which foods are healthy. She said supermarkets adopting different labelling systems were “only adding to the problem”.

Australian ‘healthy’ food labelling debate

In Australia, how to label the health benefits of foods in a way that is easy for consumers to understand has been the subject of ongoing debate. The effectiveness of the Health Star rating system, which was developed by food and beverage industry bodies, public health and consumer experts, has had a troubled start.

Although some food manufacturers have implemented the system—Australian Food News reported in April 2014 that Monster Health Food Co had begun using the system on its packaging—its implementation across the food industry has not been smooth sailing.

The Health Star Rating scheme was signed off by Federal, State and Territory food and health ministers in June 2013 and was expected to be implemented under a voluntary code run by the grocery industry body the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

However, implementation of the system has not been smooth sailing. In February 2014, Australian Food News reported that CHOICE had used the system to rate popular supermarket products after a Federal Health Department-sponsored website to list the Health Star Ratings of foods was taken offline on the day of its launch.  In the days that followed, Alastair Furnival, Chief of Staff to Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash resigned, after it was revealed he held shares in Australian Public Affairs (APA), a lobby group whose clients include Cadbury, Kraft and the Australian Beverages Council. Senator Nash denied that Mr Furnival’s links to presented a conflict of interest.

In March 2014, Australian Food News reported that consumer group CHOICE had also used the Health Star system to rate popular lunchbox food products.