Researchers asked 203 people to participate in a computer simulated grocery shopping exercise. The volunteers were shown different food items and asked to indicate whether or not they would normally buy them. For each of the 64 food items, the screen showed a 3 column split – one with a picture of the food, one with a list of the ingredients, and one with the nutrition facts.
After the session, the volunteers were asked to fill out a survey about whether they looked at the Nutrition Facts label and what information they searched for on the label. About 1/3 of people reported almost always looking at the calorie and fat content of the foods they chose.
Here comes the interesting part: the computer system actually had an eye tracking device that tracked the participants’ movements as they looked at the different foods. This device found that only 9% looked at calorie counts for all the items, while only 1% looked at fat content for all the items.
It isn’t completely bad news – most people looked at parts of the labels during some foods of the experiment. But even this might overestimate consumer behavior in the store, when they actually have to pick up and turn the container to view the label (in the computer experiment, the labels were right up front on the screen).
Why is this important? When shopping for foods, there are no doubt tons of choices on the market. Using the food labels can help you make the most nutritious choices for yourself and your family. That being said, many people feel labels can be overwhelming – what do you think? Do you find them useful?
Let me know your thoughts, and I’ll follow up tomorrow with some label reading tips!