Study Questions Placement of Nutrition Facts Panel

October 24, 2011

Repositioning the nutrition facts panel at the center of food packaging could significantly improve public health, according to a University of Minnesota study.

Repositioning the nutrition facts panel at the center of food packaging could significantly improve public health, according to a University of Minnesota study.

Researchers at the school’s department of epidemiology and community health recruited 203 adults for a simulated grocery shopping exercise wherein participants were equipped with eye-tracking cameras to track product viewing habits.

Using 64 images, participants were asked to view three elements of food product labeling-price and description, photograph and ingredient list, and nutrition facts panel-on the left, right, or center of packaging.

In line with previous research and as indicated by the eye-tracking cameras, top portions of labels were viewed more often than bottom portions. Centered nutrition facts panels were scanned by participants 61% of the time compared to 37% and 34% of the time when placed on the corners.

Eye tracking suggested that time spent reading nutrition facts panels was significantly lower than what was self-reported by participants, suggesting that there is a greater intend to choose healthful foods than what results in typical buying experiences. While 33% of participants said they almost always look at calorie listings, only 9% did so for most products during the exercise.

The results of the study suggest that governing bodies could do well to revisit regulations relating to nutrition facts placement, as the researchers explain:

 

Most consumers read the labels by starting at the top and working down. This strategy is not inherently flawed; indeed, this is the US Food and Drug Administration's recommended approach. However, this approach becomes problematic when consumers do not read all the way to the label's bottom if important information is located there. Data from this study suggest that the average consumer reads only the top five lines on a Nutrition Facts label…it is worth questioning whether these are the five most important components for consumers to view, or whether there are others that might replace one of these…Because knowing the amounts of key nutrients that foods contain can influence consumers to make healthier purchases, prominently positioning key nutrients, and labels themselves, could substantially impact public health.

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