Text and colour key to nutrition understanding

Wednesday, 09 January, 2013

Nutrition information is difficult enough for the average consumer to comprehend, regardless of how it’s presented. It’s certain, though, that the miniscule writing on the back of packs is not the best way to communicate such information.

According to a literature review conducted by RTI International, using text and colour to describe nutrient levels, rather than just numbers, is a more effective way to ensure consumers understand nutritional information.

Thirty-eight studies on consumer responses to nutrition labels were analysed to determine which aspects of labels had the strongest impact on consumer attention, understanding and purchasing behaviour.

The review found that consumers could more easily interpret information when labels incorporated text and colour to indicate high, medium or low levels of nutrients than when the information was given as grams per serving or percentage of Recommended Dietary Allowances.

In general, the studies reviewed suggest that labels on the front of food packages and on grocery aisle shelves can help consumers make better food choices. The study authors believe the results may help guide the development of nutrition labels that quickly capture the attention of customers and prompt them to choose healthier foods.

“As standards for nutrition front-of-package and shelf-labelling systems are considered, it is important to know what is most effective in conveying scientifically accurate and useful information to consumers,” said James Hersey, a senior scientist at RTI International and lead author of the study.

Kelly Wohlgenant, policy analyst at RTI and co-author of the study, added, “Although some research suggests that summary systems may influence consumers to purchase healthier products, more research is needed to assess front-of-package and shelf nutrition labels’ effects on consumers’ shopping and eating behaviours.”

For the largest public health impact, the authors recommended that nutrition label education and communication efforts should target consumers at high risk of obesity-related illness rather than those who are already focused on nutrition.

The literature review was published in the January issue of Nutrition Reviews.

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