a1 Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, PO Box 7343, Wellington South, New Zealand
a2 Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
a3 Health Services Research Centre, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
a4 Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Background In New Zealand the burden of nutrition-related disease is greatest among Māori, Pacific and low-income peoples. Nutrition labels have the potential to promote healthy food choices and eating behaviours. To date, there has been a noticeable lack of research among indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and low-income populations regarding their perceptions, use and understanding of nutrition labels. Our aim was to evaluate perceptions of New Zealand nutrition labels by Māori, Pacific and low-income peoples and to explore improvements or alternatives to current labelling systems.
Methods Māori, Samoan and Tongan researchers recruited participants who were regular food shoppers. Six focus groups were conducted which involved 158 people in total: one Māori group, one Samoan, one Tongan, and three low-income groups.
Results Māori, Pacific and low-income New Zealanders rarely use nutrition labels to assist them with their food purchases for a number of reasons, including lack of time to read labels, lack of understanding, shopping habits and relative absence of simple nutrition labels on the low-cost foods they purchase.
Conclusions Current New Zealand nutrition labels are not meeting the needs of those who need them most. Possible improvements include targeted social marketing and education campaigns, increasing the number of low-cost foods with voluntary nutrition labels, a reduction in the price of ‘healthy’ food, and consideration of an alternative mandatory nutrition labelling system that uses simple imagery like traffic lights.
(Received January 15 2007)
(Accepted September 13 2007)