Read the Label

Do nutrition labels actually help us make smart food choices?

By Holly Parker, published on May 1, 1999 - last reviewed on August 30, 2004

Grocery shopping can be a complex calculus of price, packaging and
what plain tastes good. How does the "Nutrition Facts" label, appearing
on foods since 1994, influence the food choice equation? It compels
people to make healthier dietary decisions. People who peruse labels
purchase lower-fat foods.

According to scientists at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer
Research Center, people who get the skinny on their food consume 6% fewer
fat calories than non-label-readers. "The difference in fat intake
between label-readers and non-readers was evident even after adjusting
for age, weight, sex, education, exercise and attitudes about diet," says
Marian Neuhouser, Ph.D., who led the study on food label use.

The strongest predictor of who will look at the fine print on
packaged foods? Believing in the importance of a low-fat diet. Subjects
who did were 10 times more likely to read labels than those who did not
place much weight on low-fat cuisine.

Food labels are an excellent education tool, Neuhouser concludes:
"They give consumers some control over their food choices."