US Consumers’ Understanding of Nutrition Labels in 2013: The Importance of Health Literacy
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US Consumers’ Understanding of Nutrition Labels in 2013: The Importance of Health Literacy

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      We examined US adults’ understanding of a Nutrition Facts panel (NFP), which requires health literacy (ie, prose, document, and quantitative literacy skills), and the association between label understanding and dietary behavior.


      Data were from the Health Information National Trends Survey, a nationally representative survey of health information seeking among US adults (N = 3,185) conducted from September 6, 2013, through December 30, 2013. Participants viewed an ice cream nutrition label and answered 4 questions that tested their ability to apply basic arithmetic and understanding of percentages to interpret the label. Participants reported their intake of sugar-sweetened soda, fruits, and vegetables. Regression analyses tested associations among label understanding, demographic characteristics, and self-reported dietary behaviors.


      Approximately 24% of people could not determine the calorie content of the full ice-cream container, 21% could not estimate the number of servings equal to 60 g of carbohydrates, 42% could not estimate the effect on daily calorie intake of foregoing 1 serving, and 41% could not calculate the percentage daily value of calories in a single serving. Higher scores for label understanding were associated with consuming more vegetables and less sugar-sweetened soda, although only the association with soda consumption remained significant after adjusting for demographic factors.


      Many consumers have difficulty interpreting nutrition labels, and label understanding correlates with self-reported dietary behaviors. The 2016 revised NFP labels may address some deficits in consumer understanding by eliminating the need to perform certain calculations (eg, total calories per package). However, some tasks still require the ability to perform calculations (eg, percentage daily value of calories). Schools have a role in teaching skills, such as mathematics, needed for nutrition label understanding.

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