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The consent of the food industry – Food labels are misleading

6 August 2009 1,223 views No Comment

IFIC, The International Food Information Council, is a trade group representing the interests of food, beverage, and agricultural industries mostly in the US. Recently IFIC published a report entitled “2009 Food & Health Survey – Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition & Health”. The consumer survey was conducted earlier this year and a summary presentation may be downloaded here [PDF].

There are many interesting statistics, but we’d like to first discuss the findings regarding the nutrition fact panel:

According to IFIC, these are the top 3 “challenges” consumers face with the nutrition panel:
1. Misleading serving size. We agree. See our recent post on this topic.
2. Consumers do not consider their consumption of foods and beverages in the context of their daily intake. This is also true, as 63% of consumers do not know what their daily calorie intake should be. Do you know yours?
3. Consumers do not realize information to help them interpret daily context exists on nutrition panels. There is lots information in there, but it is obfuscated, and for a good reason – vagueness in the details alongside clarity in the headlines (Immunity Cereal) helps sell more products.

The recommendations to manufacturers are:
1. Clarify serving size. Fooducate addition:  Please adjust serving sizes to what people really eat, rather explain why the tiny serving size is reasonable.
2. Call attention to daily intake . Fooducate note: People should know what their daily intake should be. However, if this information will be used to make a 400 calorie sugary snack seems less harmful because it’s part of the larger picture – a 2,500 calorie diet, then people will just keep getting fatter.
3. Mention the FDA boldly in the nutrition panel – to increase trustworthiness. But of course…
The top 4 influences on a purchase decision:
1. Taste
2. Price
3. Healthfulness
4. Convenience

What do people look at inside the nutrition panel:
Serving size – 54%, # of servings in package – 48%
Calories – 75%
total fat – 69%, saturated fat – 56%, TRANS FAT – 57%
total carbs – 45%, total sugar – 61%, FIBER – 44%

What people look for in the ingredient list:
Type of fat/oil – 66%
Sweeteners – 62%
Natural ingredients – 49%
Order of ingredients on list – 47%
Artificial ingredients – 44%
Length of ingredients list – 20%
Food colors – 16%
Allergens – 16%
Ability to pronounce ingredient name(s) 12%

More tidbits:

* 61% of consumers get their food and health information from the food labels. Only 8% get info from a dietitian.

* 67% of consumers are interested in learning about the relationship between food and health, but 42% claim that the information they get is confusing and conflicting

* 56% would like to hear about what TO eat, not what NOT to eat.

* When deciding whether to buy a product or not, 69% read the nutrition facts panel. 49% read the ingredient list, and 20% read statements about health benefits.

* People tend to look at nutrition labels more for new item, products with various claims on the front of package, and for items requested by children.

What to do at the supermarket:

If you don’t already know how many calories you should be consuming daily, use the Mayo Clinic Calculator. Armed with this knowledge, you can make better decisions by looking at the nutrition labels on foods.

Look at the serving size to see if it makes sense and is not too small. If a products has just 2 or 3 servings per package, there’s a good chance people will finish off the entire package, and not just a single serving.

But you really need to be careful not to focus just on the calories. Strive for minimally processed foods with short ingredient lists. More fiber. Less salt, less sugar, less saturated fat.

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