Researching a better nutritional facts panel
By Doug Picklyk
East Lansing, Mich. – A change of placement and simplified icons can improve the effectiveness of nutritional facts panels, suggests a study led by Michigan State University (MSU), and featured in a recent issue of the journal Food Policy.
The team of scientists found that adding labels to the front of packages presenting a few key ingredients commonly associated with disease (sugar, sodium and fat) improves attention to critical nutritional information and the selection of foods.
The results support a body of research indicating that the government-mandated panels, which currently mandate comprehensive information on the side of products, could be improved, said Laura Bix, MSU packaging professor and co-lead author.
“Our team’s mission is to leverage basic research on visual cognition and human performance to the design and evaluation of better labels, thereby improving health outcomes,” said Bix, who co-led the study with Mark Becker, a MSU psychologist.
The researchers found three factors that improved a consumers’ ability to make better nutritional decisions:
- First, moving a few key nutrients from the side panel to the front allowed elements commonly associated with disease to be found quickly.
- Second, a traffic light system that coded foods that were high in potentially dangerous nutrients with red, those that were moderate in yellow, and those that were low in green helped to quickly convey nutritional information.
- Third, the team also discovered that simplifying the information improved consumer retention.
“Almost all changes to labels on the front of packages were more likely to be detected than the same changes on the traditional nutrition facts panels,” Becker said. “More than 98 per cent of trials with change on the front labels were identified, while a majority of changes to traditional ones were missed.”
In other countries, labeling is boiled down to key elements that contribute to diet-related illnesses – calories, fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. The study suggests that U.S. consumers could benefit if that same strategy was employed here, Becker said.