Washington DC, December 18: According to a recent study, food labels can lead to changes in consumers' intake of select nutrients, calories, and fat intake. Over the past two decades, labels on packaged foods, calorie counts on restaurant menus, front-of-pack labels encouraging healthier eating, and "low-sodium" or "fat-free" identifiers have been developed in order to promote healthier choices.
This study, which was published in the 'American Journal of Preventive Medicine', tries to focus on whether these labels actually work. A new meta-analysis of interventional studies, led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, assessed the effectiveness of multiple types of food labels. Denmark Mulls Labelling Food for Climate Impact.
Researchers found that these approaches can impact some targets, but not others, for both consumer and industry behaviour. The 60 interventional studies reviewed comprised of two million unique observations, including consumer reported dietary intakes, purchases, and sales receipts.
"Many old and new food policies focus on labelling, whether on food packages or restaurant menus. Remarkably, the effectiveness of these labels, whether for changing consumers' choices or industry product formulations, has not been clear. Our findings provide new evidence on what might work, and what might not when implementing food labelling," said Dariush Mozaffarian, one of the authors of the study.
In a pooled analysis of studies that included food labelling on menus, product packaging, or other point-of-purchase materials such as placards on supermarket shelves, researchers found that labelling reduced consumers' intake of calories by 6.6 per cent, total fat by 10.6 per cent and other unhealthy food options by 13 per cent. Labelling also increased consumers' vegetable consumption by 13.5 per cent, the study noted.
In contrast, labelling did not significantly impact consumer intakes of other targets such as total carbohydrate, total protein, saturated fat, fruits, whole grains, or other healthy options. When industry responses were evaluated, the researchers found that labelling led to reductions of both trans fat and sodium in packaged foods by 64.3 per cent and 8.9 per cent, respectively. However, no significant effects of labelling were identified for industry formulations of total calories, saturated fat, dietary fibre, other healthy components (e.g., protein and unsaturated fat), or other unhealthy components (e.g., total fat, sugar, and dietary cholesterol).
The researchers also examined the effects of label type, placement, and other characteristics. No consistent differential effects were found by label placements (menu, package, other point-of-purchase), label types (e.g., traffic light, nutrient content), type of labelled products, whether labelling was voluntary or mandatory, or several other factors. The researchers, therefore, concluded that the general presence or absence of information may be more relevant to consumers and industry than specific types of labels.