Food labels prove confusing for consumers

September 27, 2006 in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News

Food labels prove confusing for consumers

In the largest study of its kind, researchers have found that reading and math skills of a significant number of people may not be sufficient to extract the needed information from food labels.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center surveyed 200 people from a wide socioeconomic range in the nutrition label survey. One part of the study asked subjects to interpret food labels, such as determining carbohydrate or caloric content of an amount of food consumed. The other part asked patients to choose which of two foods had more or less of a certain nutrient, giving patients a 50/50 chance to guess the correct food item.

Sixty-eight percent of patients had at least some college education, and 77% had at least 9th-grade level literacy skills.

Overall, patients correctly answered 69 percent of the survey questions. For example, only 32% of patients could correctly calculate the amount of carbohydrates consumed in a 20-ounce bottle of soda that had 2.5 servings in the bottle. Only 60% of patients could calculate the number of carbohydrates consumed if they ate half a bagel, when the serving size was a whole bagel. Only 22% of patients could determine the amount of net carbohydrates in 2 slices of low-carb bread, and only 23% could determine the amount of net carbohydrates in a serving of low-carb spaghetti.

Common reasons for incorrect responses included misapplication of the serving size, confusion by extraneous material on the food label, and incorrect calculations.

These findings suggest greater public awareness and education campaigns may be necessary to help consumers decipher nutrition labels.

For more information on healthy food logos, check out Leslie Beck’s September 27th, 2006 article in the Logos signal healthy foods, but are they?

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.