More on New Study Finds Food Labels Baffling for Many
New Study Finds Food Labels Baffling for Many
Breaking News - September 2006 - Week 4
(Sep 27, 2006)
-- Many people are lacking reading and math skills needed to interpret the complex nutrition labels on food packages, a new study finds.
The report was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
People need to be better educated about how to read food labels, but labels also need to be redesigned so that information is easier to understand, the researchers say.
"Even though most people told us that they read food labels on a regular basis, people have a hard time understanding food labels," says study author Dr. Russell L. Rothman, an assistant professor at the Center for Health Services Research at Vanderbilt University. "Food labels are pretty complex pieces of information, particularly the nutrition panel on the side of the food label."
In the study, researchers surveyed 200 primary-care patients. The participants, who came from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, were given standardized reading and math tests. They were also given a nutrition label survey, which asked them to interpret food labels. The survey measured participants' comprehension of nutrition labels.
Math Skills Not Up to Par
Among the participants, 68 percent had some college education, and 77 percent had at least ninth-grade level literacy skills. However, 63 percent had less than ninth-grade math skills. Most participants said they used food labels and found them easy to understand, the researchers report.
"However, we found that a lot of people have a hard time understanding the label and make mistakes when trying to interpret the label," Rothman says. "This can lead to people grossly overestimating or underestimating how much they are taking in of certain nutrients."
Overall, patients correctly answered 69 percent of the nutrition survey questions, Rothman's team found. But, only 32 percent could correctly calculate the amount of carbohydrates consumed in a 20-ounce bottle of soda that had 2.5 servings in the bottle. Only 60 percent could calculate the number of carbohydrates consumed if they ate half a bagel when the serving size was a whole bagel.
The reasons most people gave for these misunderstandings were that they did not understand the serving size information; they were confused by extraneous material on the label, and they calculated incorrectly.
Opportunity to Teach Nutrition Skills
Doctors, dietitians, and other healthcare providers should do a better job of explaining food labels to their patients, Rothman says. Food manufacturers and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should also work to make food labels easier to understand, he adds.
"The labels are pretty dense," Rothman says. "There are opportunities to make them a little easier for people to understand." Serving sizes should be made clearer, and extraneous information should be removed from the label, he says.
These changes and others would make things more understandable, especially for people who are on a particular diet, Rothman notes. "If you really have a hard time understanding the labels, let your doctor know and he can help you by suggesting ways to eat that don't require you to understand all the information on the label," he says.
Eating Right Remains Challenging
One expert thinks that the way nutrition facts are conveyed to consumers needs to be revamped.
"We need an objective assessment of the overall nutritional quality of foods," according to Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "We need that translated into simple, interpretable-at-a-glance symbols on the front of every packaged food. And we need it applied to chain restaurant meals, too."
Eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts is an easy way to improve dietary intake while avoiding complex calculations. Food processing often involves the addition of sugar, fat, and sodium. Avoiding processed foods is a simple diet strategy that most can use.
Always consult your physician for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
Facts About Calories
Individuals need enough daily calories to maintain adequate energy to function, but no more than can be used in a day. This is called an energy balance. If excess calories are consumed it causes weight gain. If fewer calories are taken in than used, the result is weight loss. When the two are balanced, weight is maintained.
Even when dieting, however, calories should not be cut back so much that energy needs are not met. The number of calories needed depends primarily on age, gender, and activity level.
Facts About Cholesterol
Remember: "cholesterol-free" does not mean "fat-free."
Dietary cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all foods of animal origin: egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, milk, and milk products.
Because our bodies make cholesterol, it is not required in our diets. However, because most people eat foods that contain cholesterol, it is important to avoid excessive amounts.
The amount of cholesterol you consume can affect your blood cholesterol levels.
Facts About Sodium
Although salt is the major contributor of sodium in our diets, sodium and salt are not the same, contrary to popular belief. A teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Sodium is a mineral needed to maintain body fluids and proper nerve function. It occurs naturally in some foods, but most of the sodium in our diets comes from seasonings and ingredients we add to foods.
Although sodium is essential, most of us consume more than we need. For some, too much sodium in the diet can cause the blood pressure to rise, creating a greater risk for heart disease or stroke.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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