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Nutrition Facts Labels: Who Reads Them?

by Sarah Kruse on Nov 15, 2011

Despite being required on packaged food items for more than 15 years, the Nutrition Facts label barely gets read by most consumers. Although a majority of consumers report that they do in fact view labels, objective measurements suggest otherwise, according to a study in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Researchers used an eye-tracking device to measure how long consumers viewed the Nutrition Facts label in a simulated grocery-shopping exercise on a computer monitor. Study participants saw over 60 different products. Three images appeared for each product: the Nutrition Facts label, a picture and a list of ingredients. The images rotated so that one-third of the 203 participants saw the Nutrition Facts label on the left, one-third saw it on the right and one-third saw it in the center. Participants were asked whether they would consider buying each of the products. Subjects knew their eye movements were being tracked but did not know the study focused on viewing nutrition information.

Lead investigators at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, found that subjects viewed labels more when they were placed in the center than when they were located on either side. Researchers also learned that the average consumer reads lines at the top of a label more than those at the bottom.

When it came to self-reporting, 33% of participants said they almost always looked at the calorie content on Nutrition Facts labels; 31% said they almost always looked at the total fat content; and 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 the calorie count for almost all of the products in the study. And only 1% actually looked at the information for fat, sugar and serving size on almost all labels.

Study authors suggested that a more prominent placement of the Nutrition Facts label on product packaging could positively impact public health, since consumers would be more likely to view the nutrition information.

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About the Author

Sarah Kruse IDEA Author/Presenter

Sarah Kruse is a freelance writer and former senior editor at IDEA.