Nutrition labelling on pre-packaged foods

Use of nutrition information among young people
Youth and young adulthood is an important time of life when people begin to shop and cook for themselves, and make independent decisions about their diet. Youth and young adulthood is also the period with among the lowest diet quality. We examined dietary patterns, as well as use and understanding of nutrition information. First, focus groups were conducted to explore how young people think about nutrition and there levels of understanding for recommended levels of dietary intake. The qualitative study also explored different formats for displaying nutrition information, including traffic light labels and descriptive information such as “low” and “high” labels on the nutrition facts panel.

A national survey of 16- to 24-year-olds was also conducted to examine basic dietary behaviours, including responsibility for meal preparation, frequency of eating out, and food shopping habits. Participants were also randomized to view different types of food labels and complete a series of tasks that evaluated their comprehension and ability to use different food labels. The findings are currently being published but are available upon request. The study was funded by the Canadian Foundation for Dietetics Research.

 

Added sugar labelling

In 2014, Health Canada announced upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts table, which included changes to labelling of added sugars. We conducted an online survey among adolescents and young adults to examine their knowledge of sugar recommendations, and test some of the proposed changes to the NFt. The study found that very few people (<7%) knew the recommendations for how much total sugar or added sugar they should eat. The study also found that those who viewed experimental conditions that had percent daily value (%DV) information were better able to understand how much total sugar there was in a food item, and those who saw added sugar information were significantly better at identifying that the product contained added sugar and how much added sugar was in the product. The results have some important implications for food labelling in Canada and the US.

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Food label design & serving size
Serving size and % daily value information are central components of how nutrition information is communicated for pre-packaged foods. This information is intended to help consumers compared products and to provide context for the nutrient amounts displayed on products. Unfortunately, serving size and % daily value amounts are among the most problematic aspects in terms of consumers’ ability to interpret and apply information on food labels. Is there a better way to design and communicate serving size information? We have conducted several studies to examine more effective ways of labelling serving size, with a focus on recent proposals in the US and Canada for re-designing food labels.
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Front-of-pack  labelling
In most countries, the required nutrition information on food packages is displayed on either the back or side of products. As a result, consumers have to physically pick up and examine each individual product to see the nutrition information and compare products. There are increasing calls to require nutrition information to appear on the front-of-packs (FOP), where they are more visible. Does this actually change whether people use nutrition information to guide their purchases?

We conducted an experimental study with a behavioural task among Canadian adults. Participants were randomly assigned to one of five experimental conditions: (i) control condition with no FOP label; (ii) basic numeric FOP label; (iii) numeric FOP label with ‘high’ and ‘low’ sodium content descriptors; (iv) detailed Traffic Light (TL) label with colour coding, content descriptors and numeric information; and (v) simple TL label with no numeric information. Participants were shown pairs of grocery products that varied in sodium content and told they could choose a free sample. Selection of the low-sodium v. the high-sodium product was the primary behavioural outcome, in addition to ratings of effectiveness, understanding, liking and believability. Participants in the three FOP conditions with ‘high/low’ sodium content descriptors were significantly more likely to choose the lower-sodium product compared with the control group. The detailed TL label was ranked most effective at helping participants select low-sodium products, and was rated significantly higher than other formats in liking, understanding and believability.
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