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Abstract

Nutrition labels on food products-which are required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc.-were first mandated in the early 1970s. They were revised extensively in 1992 as part of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Recently the Food and Drug Administration called for public comment on proposed changes to the program and solicited research related to the use and impact of the current label. In response to this request, a short consumer survey was conducted with 160 persons to see if they use the label, and, if so, which parts they use and their opinions about the usefulness of the current label. The majority of the respondents said they read the label most of the time before purchasing food, with 21% stating they almost always do to. Parts of the label read most frequently were the calorie, fat, sugar, and fiber contents. Percentages of daily values were read less often, as were the health-related statements and the list of ingredients. Approximately half of those who consumed candy, bakery products, chips, or sodas-foods known to be high in calories-stated that they did not read the calorie content. Over two-thirds of the consumers felt confident that they understand how to read labels and said using a food label was better than relying on their own knowledge. However, the majority also though additional information about the label would be valuable. Most persons did not know the maximum calorie content of a low-calorie food, and stated that they would probably eat their favorite snack food even if it contained 400 calories per serving. Therefore, the calorie content of the food does not appear to have a major impact on the decision-making process. In conclusion, it was clear that the majority of the respondents used the label and perceived themselves as knowledgeable regarding its use. However, a more comprehensive survey is needed to measure the full extent of their knowledge and understanding.

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