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Impact of Food Labels

iStock-121263521Results of a large randomized clinical trial were recently published in JAMA Network Open describing the effects of food labeling on the beverage and snack choices made by U.S. adults. This study was conducted with the assumption that the current Nutrition Facts labeling is insufficient; although it provides nutritional information about a product, it is typically on the side or back panel where it is less visible, and provides no “interpretative” information, i.e., some type of guidance or judgment about the quality of the food provided. A “front-of-package” label that offers such guidance may help reduce intake of the poor food choices that drive the diabetes and obesity epidemics. A previously published systematic review suggests that color-coded and warning labels can significantly influence shoppers away from unhealthful products to more nutritious ones.

This recent study evaluated four different types of labels, ranging from traffic light labels (e.g., green, yellow, and red labels) to those expressing calorie content by the number of minutes of physical activity required to burn them. Nearly 8,000 participants were included in the study analysis, with a similar demographic distribution to the U.S. population. When asked to choose snacks and beverages, all four different label types led to a reduction in calorie intake, as well as sugar and saturated fat, compared to the control group (Nutrition Facts label only). This was also the largest randomized trial evaluating labeling effects among varying education levels, and found they were equally beneficial among people with more or less education, overall an encouraging finding that supports the use of such labels to promote healthier choices.

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