a1 Department of Health Studies and Gerontology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1, Canada
Objective To review research on consumer use and understanding of nutrition labels, as well as the impact of labelling on dietary habits.
Design A systematic review was conducted by searching electronic databases. Relevant articles were screened by two reviewers and included if they met inclusion criteria, including eight methodological criteria. A total of 120 articles were included in the review, including cross-sectional surveys (n 96), experimental designs (n 17), ‘natural experiments’ (n 7) and longitudinal population-based surveys (n 2).
Setting Articles covered seven jurisdictions: USA (n 88), Europe (n 12), Canada (n 9), Australia and New Zealand (n 4), Norway (n 2), Thailand (n 1) and Trinidad (n 1).
Subjects Participants were from a wide range of age groups, socio-economic strata and geographical regions.
Results Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods are among the most prominent sources of nutrition information. Nutrition labels are perceived as a highly credible source of information and many consumers use nutrition labels to guide their selection of food products. Evidence also shows a consistent link between the use of nutrition labels and healthier diets. However, the use of labels varies considerably across subgroups, with lower use among children, adolescents and older adults who are obese. Research also highlights challenges in terms of consumer understanding and appropriate use of labelling information.
Conclusions Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods are a cost-effective population-level intervention with unparalleled reach. However, to capitalize on their potential, governments will need to explore new formats and different types of information content to ensure that nutrition information is accessible and understandable.
(Received March 18 2010)
(Accepted October 20 2010)
(Online publication January 18 2011)