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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Nov;59(9):1955-67.

Do dietary intakes affect search for nutrient information on food labels?

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Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, US Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, HFS-727, College Park, MD 20740-3835, USA.


Nutrition labels on food packages are designed to promote and protect public health by providing nutrition information so that consumers can make informed dietary choices. High levels of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in diets are linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and a greater risk of heart disease. Therefore, an understanding of consumer use of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol information on food labels has important implications for public health and nutrition education. This study explores the association between dietary intakes of these three nutrients and psychological or demographic factors and the search for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol information on food labels. Psychology literature suggests a negative association between intakes of these nutrients and probability of search for their information on food labels. Health behavior theories also suggest perceived benefits and costs of using labels and perceived capability of using labels are associated with the search behavior. We estimate the relationship between label information search and its predictors using logistic regressions. Our samples came from the 1994-1996 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and Diet and Health Knowledge Survey conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture. Results suggest that search for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol information on food labels is less likely among individuals who consume more of the three nutrients, respectively. The search is also related to perceived benefits and costs of using the label, perceived capability of using the label, knowledge of nutrition and fats, perceived efficacy of diets in reducing the risk of illnesses, perceived importance of nutrition in food shopping, perceived importance of a healthy diet, and awareness of linkage between excessive consumption of the nutrients and health problems. These findings suggest encouraging search of food label information among consumers with unhealthy dietary habits would need innovative approaches. Yet, nutrition education can be instrumental in encouraging this search by stimulating motivation and providing technical help.

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