We Look At Nutrition Labels Less Than We Think We Do, Study Says

10/25/2011 06:13 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011
  • Amanda Chan The Huffington Post

You're one of those good people who always makes sure to check the nutrition facts on food packages before buying them, right?

Well, a new study suggests you may think you're good about checking, but you really don't pay as much attention as you think you do.

"The results of this study suggest that consumers have a finite attention span for Nutrition Facts labels: although most consumers did view labels, very few consumers viewed every component on any label," the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities researchers said in a statement. "These results differed from the self-reported survey responses describing typical grocery shopping and health behaviors submitted by the participants."

For the study, 203 people looked at 64 grocery store items on a computer screen. There were three elements on the screen for each item: the Nutrition Facts label, the description of the item including its price and quantity, and a picture of the item and a list of its ingredients. A third of the study participants saw the Nutrition Facts element on the left side of the screen, a third of them saw it on the right side and a third of them saw it in the middle. Then, researchers asked the study participants to say whether they would think about buying the product.

Researchers found that 33 percent of people said that they usually looked at the Nutrition Facts on food packages, 31 percent said they usually look at total fat, and 20 percent said they usually look at trans fat. Twenty-four percent said they usually look at sugar, and 26 percent said they usually look at the serving sizes.

But using eye-tracking technology, researchers found that just 9 percent of the people in the study looked at the calories of the products, and just 1 percent looked at the other things (fats, sugar, etc.).

In addition, researchers found that 61 percent of the people read the Nutrition Facts when they were in the middle of the computer screen, while just 37 percent read them when they were on the left side and 34 percent read them when they were on the right side.

"Any research that adds to our understanding of what would encourage consumers to use the information provided is welcomed," a UK Food and Drink Federation spokesperson told BBC News. However, she added that the transferability of the finding is still unknown because the study is computer-based.

Confused about nutrition labels, and other nutrition buzzwords? Click through this slideshow for definitions of some commonly used terms and phrases.

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