US adults have high familiarity with nutrition labeling, finds FDA survey
19 Mar 2021 --- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Food Safety and Nutrition Survey (FSANS) has revealed that 87 percent of US adults have looked at the Nutrition Facts label on food packages. Other findings include the majority of consumers are familiar with front-of-package claims and menu labeling at restaurants.
“It is encouraging that so many people are using the Nutrition Facts label and that people are also looking at calories on the menu,” an FDA spokesperson tells NutritionInsight.
The FDA will use the information gathered in FSANS to help it make better-informed regulatory, policy, education and other risk-management decisions to promote and protect public health.
The FDA recently updated the Nutrition Facts label, with the final requirements being published in 2016. Food manufacturers then began implementing this over 2020 and 2021.
High levels of familiarity
Most consumers are familiar with the Nutrition Facts label, with the top four items that consumers look for being calories, total sugar, sodium and serving size.
Consumers report using the label most frequently for seeing how high or low the food is in things like calories, salt, vitamins or fat; for getting a general idea of the nutritional content of the food; and to compare different food items with each other.”
Over 80 percent of respondents have also seen front-of-package claims like “No added sugar,” “Whole grain,” “Organic,” Gluten-free,” “Low fat,” “No artificial ingredients,” “Low sugar,” and “No artificial colors.”
Consumers also have a good familiarity with nutrition systems in the out-of-home sector, with 70 percent of respondents reporting seeing calorie information on menus and menu boards.
Of those who have seen such information, 53 percent reported using the calorie information and most often indicated using it to avoid ordering high-calorie menu items.
Thousands of responses
FSANS is designed to assess consumers’ awareness, knowledge, understanding and reported behaviors relating to a variety of food safety and nutrition-related topics.
It comprises 4,398 responses collected during October and November of 2019. Therefore, lifestyle changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may have since altered some of these results. However, the FDA does not yet have this data.
The FSANS report’s frequencies were weighted to account for sampling design and non-response. Base weights were adjusted with data from the sample frame (census region, single or multi-unit housing) and the number of adults per household.
The frequencies were also adjusted using demographic controls from the latest release of the five-year American Community Survey data for sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, education, census region and residence in a metropolitan area.
Importance of labeling
The FDA spokesperson emphasizes that the information on food labels helps consumers maintain healthy dietary practices.
“Consumers have long been interested in finding easier ways to identify healthful foods by looking at the labels when food shopping. Claims are quick signals for consumers about what benefits a food or beverage they choose might have, and they can also encourage the food industry to reformulate products to improve their healthy qualities,” they explain.
However, there is room for improvement within these claims. The FDA believes that “healthy” is ready for change and plans to update the criteria for this claim. It is also considering front-of-package symbols relating to “healthy.”
In November, a US study found that moving nutritional labeling from the back to the front of food packaging may incentivize food producers to competitively improve the quality of their ingredients throughout market categories.
Front-of-pack labels (FoPL) have also been a hot topic in Europe in recent months. This week, hundreds of scientists signed a call demanding the European Commission imminently adopts Nutri-Score as a harmonized and mandatory FoPL.
By Katherine Durrell
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