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Nutrition information on food package labels : consumer use in grocery stores and input on education issues Romses, Kathy

Abstract

This study investigates consumers' use of nutrition information on food package labels in a purchase decision context, obtains consumers' input on the types of education assistance they want to help them to use this information, who they believe should be providing this assistance, and their suggested methods for distributing or providing this assistance. Approximately 7% of 2,316 consumers observed choosing foods from two large grocery stores in the Greater Vancouver area were observed using the nutrition information on food package labels. Eighty-seven consumers who were using this information were interviewed in the store and 38 of these consumers were further interviewed by telephone. In-store participants shared their views on the nutrition information used to help with their purchase decision, the reasons for use, and the education assistance required to facilitate their use of this information. Telephone participants also provided their input on who should provide the education and how it should be distributed. In-store participants reported using the nutrition information primarily for limiting nutrients perceived to be harmful (fat, calories, sugar, additives, and salt). Fourteen percent of the in-store participants initially reported that they needed help using the nutrition information on the label. The percentage of telephone participants requesting help with the label increased from 13% to 47% when proposed changes to the nutrition label by Health Canada were explained. Sixty-eight percent of those requesting help wanted it directed towards increasing their understanding of the types of fats. Fifty percent of telephone participants reported that food companies should provide the educational support, followed by government (37%), health professionals (34%>), grocery stores (16%>), and public schools (8%). Telephone participants chose handouts in the grocery stores in holders close to the foods, newspapers, and handouts in health offices as the top three methods of providing education information to consumers. Further research with consumers who don't use labels is required to obtain an overall view of consumers' perspectives. Consumers are the ultimate end users of the nutrition information on food labels, which makes their input particularly important. The results of this study are timely as Health Canada reviews its policies on nutrition labelling and nutrition claims which includes a public education component. Theories and models from adult education are used to help explain the findings.

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