Nutritional Labeling Doesn't Lead to Healthier Food Choices, According to Study

Robyn Nazar RN BSN's picture
Healthy food choices
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People make healthier food choices when they are well informed, right? Wrong.

Legislation passed in 2009 in Washington State mandated restaurant chains to provide customers with nutritional information on their orders. This legislation was a part of large effort to reduce the growing rate of obesity in the US. However, over a year after the law went into effect, the results are disappointing.

Researchers from Duke University of Singapore Graduate School and the public health department of Seattle and King County found that purchasing habits in participating Taco Bell restaurants in Seattle area were completely unaffected by the legislation. The Taco Bell locations saw no change in what people ordered and no change in sales.

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Lead author Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D stated, "given the results of prior studies, we had expected the results to be small, but we were surprised that we could not detect even the slightest hint of changes in purchasing behavior as a result of the legislation.”

So, why did this happen? It is possible the public simply doesn’t care about the calorie and fat content of the food they consume. Or perhaps they are ignoring the information provided to them. More likely however, is that nutritional labeling just isn’t the best way to get consumers to change their eating habits. A seperate study conducted in New York earlier this year on mandated labeling found that only 15% of their participants reported “using” the nutritional labels provided; 56% said that they noticed it.

Finkelstein also noted that the lack of consumer change could also be the result of the “Healthy Highlights” logo placed next to menu items prior to the implementation of the nutritional label law. This quick and visible logo could have already altered consumer habits and the addition of nutritional label would have been futile.

Mandated nutritional labeling will go into effect in restaurants nationwide as a part of the new Health Care Reform. However, the results of this Taco Bell study indicate that this may not be the answer to our rampant obesity problem in the U.S. Additional research is needed to find out what types of information is effective in influencing consumers to make healthier choices.

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