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Consumers’ Ability to Perform Tasks Using Nutrition Labels

  • Alan S. Levy
    Affiliations
    Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC 20204
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  • Sara B. Fein
    Correspondence
    Address for correspondence: Sara B. Fein, Ph.D., Consumer Studies Branch, FDA, HFS 727, 200 C Street, SW. Washington, DC 20204;Tel: (202) 205-5349; Fax: (202) 260-0794.
    Affiliations
    Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC 20204
    Search for articles by this author
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      Abstract

      Consumers’ ability to perform common nutrition label use tasks and specific task components, which revealed the effect of prior knowledge, were analyzed for relationships with demographic characteristics, label reading, and health status. Data were from a mall intercept experimental study. Most consumers (78%) accurately compared two products, 58% accurately evaluated nutrient level claims, 45% comprehensively balanced nutrients over a daily diet, and 20% accurately calculated the contribution of a single food to a daily diet, a task that required complex math. The subjects who performed significantly poorer were over 55 years of age, nonwhite, and less educated than those who performed best. Not reading food labels and having a diet-related health condition were also related to poorer performance. Task component analysis showed that all types of subjects shared the same response tendencies when making nutrition judgments. The findings suggest that dietary guidance for consumers will be more effective if it does not require quantitative tasks but relies instead on tasks that are easier for consumers.
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