Many consumers, myself included, consult the Nutrition Facts labels while perusing the grocery store aisles. But findings published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association show that a number of us may not be paying as close attention to nutritional details as we believe, and that repositioning the information on packaging could help us make healthier choices.
In the study (.pdf), University of Minnesota researchers assigned 203 people to observe information about 64 different grocery products displayed on a computer screen. Three elements appeared on each screen: the well-known Nutrition Facts label, a picture and list of ingredients, and a description of the product with price and quantity information. One third of the participants viewed the Nutrition Facts label on the left, right and center. Volunteers' eye movements were tracked as they viewed the information. Additionally, the participants were asked whether they would consider buying the product. According to a journal release:
Self-reported viewing of Nutrition Facts label components was higher than objectively measured viewing. 33% of participants self-reported that they almost always look at calorie content on Nutrition Facts labels, 31% reported that they almost always look at the total fat content, 20% said the same for trans-fat content, 24% for sugar content, and 26% for serving size. However, only 9% of participants actually looked at calorie count for almost all of the products in this study, and about 1% of participants looked at each of these other components (total fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size) on almost all labels.
When the Nutrition Facts label was presented in the center column, subjects read one or more sections of 61% of the labels compared with 37% and 34% of labels among participants randomly assigned to view labels on the left- and right hand sides of the screen, respectively. In addition, labels in the center column received more than 30% more view time than the same labels when located in a side column.
Researchers say the results illustrate how prominently positioning key nutrients, and labels themselves, could substantially impact public health.