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Who is NOT Using Food Labels to Make Healthy Food Choices?

September 2018

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

According to The Nation's Health (May 2018), few young adults are using nutrition labels.  This means they may be missing out on important dietary health information according to a recent study. The study, published in February in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that only one-third of young adults ages 25 to 36 frequently use the federally mandated nutrition facts labels that appear on packaged foods.

The study looked at nutrition label use among 2,000 young adults and had the following results:

  • Young adults who frequently used nutrition labels were more likely to be women, have a higher education and income, regularly prepare food, and were physically active.
  • Frequent label use was also higher among people who were classified as overweight, along with those trying to lose, gain or maintain their weight.
  • Nutrition label use was associated with certain healthy behaviors, including eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber.
  • People who used nutrition labels also consumed fewer added sugars and a smaller percentage of total calories from saturated fat.  The also ate at fast-food restaurants less often.
  • Nutrition label readers looked at sugars, total calories, serving size and the ingredient list most often.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that most packaged foods include nutrition facts labels.  Consumers can use these labels to look at information such as the calories, fat, cholesterol and sugar in a packaged food product. In May, 2016 the FDA announced changes to nutrition facts labels that will be mandatory for most food manufacturers by 2020. Changes will include a new design, updated information about nutrition science and updated serving sizes and labeling requirements for some package sizes.

These changes are expected to make nutrition labels easier to understand to compare nutritional content within labels as well as information across different labels. These labels need to be simple, easy to read and can be compared across products.  Another consideration for public health is the relationship between nutrition label use and weight goals, especially when people are preoccupied with their weight or are at risk of eating disorders.

Nutrition is important independent of weight. Even if you're able to maintain a healthy weight, it's still really important that you have adequate nutrients for both short-term and long-term health.  Take small steps and use nutrition facts label to help you buy healthy foods for yourself and your family.

For more information about nutrition labels, visit Copyright The Nation's Health, American Public Health Association