Food Labels Have the Skinny

Overweight and obesity can be helped by reading nutrition labels on food

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Consumers have a number of things to ponder over when looking at the 'Nutrition Facts' on packaged food. For those looking to lose or maintain healthy weight, keeping the facts in mind can help.

Shoppers who stop to read the food labels are thinner than those who don't take the time to do so, a new study has found.

"Shop smart and read the food labels."

Led by Steven Yen, a professor at the University of Tennessee in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, researchers looked at how the use of nutrition labels affects obesity in the study.

They collected more than 25,000 observations on health, eating and shopping habits from the National Health Interview Survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 15,000 of the responses came from women and the rest from men.

Researchers focused on each participant's body mass index (BMI), which is how obesity is primarily measured.

It is calculated by dividing kilograms by height in meters squared.

The average BMI among the participants was 26.3 for males and 25.5 for females. About 58 percent were overweight and 24 percent obese.

Researchers found that women who skip over food labels weighed about nine pounds more than women who didn't.

And the BMIs decreased to 25.97 and 25.36 for males and females respectively for those who read the labels.

"Reading food labels is important because it allows shoppers to improve diet quality by making more informed decisions in food purchases," Dr. Yen said.

Women read labels more often than men as well, and those who smoke pay even less attention.

Specifically, 74 percent of women and 58 percent of men said they used the nutritional labels.

Consumers who are most likely to use the labels include married people over the age of 25 with a higher education, higher income and who walk for exercise.

The authors note a few limitations with their study, including their use of BMI to measure the participants. BMI doesn't separate fat from fat-free mass in their calculations.

They also didn't consider how things are affected long-term and that pulling their data from a survey may not be a real representation of how using nutrition labels affect obesity.

And finally, the food industry may have changed the contents of their products when they were required to label the nutritional content of their food.

Future studies, the authors say, should include newer data sets, look at how obesity is affected long-term and how different kinds of labels affect obesity.

The study was published in the May 2012 issue of Agricultural Economics.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 26, 2012
Last Updated:
September 27, 2012