Fresh Consumer Insights:<br />Food Label Dietary Info Crucial for First-time Purchases: FDA Study

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Fresh Consumer Insights:<br />Food Label Dietary Info Crucial for First-time Purchases: FDA Study

With a larger percentage of U.S. consumers increasingly aware of the link between diet and heart disease, more than half are routinely reading food labels when purchasing products for the first time, according to key findings of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) latest Health and Diet Survey released earlier this week.

The 10th such survey the FDA has fielded since 1982, this latest installment is based on a 2008 telephone survey of more than 2,500 adults in every state and the District of Columbia, and provides a reliable snapshot of the nation’s dietary habits. (Previous surveys were conducted in 2002 and 2004.)

Among the key highlights of this year’s newly released FDA Health and Diet survey:

—More U.S. consumers know of the relationship between diet and heart disease. Ninety-one percent are aware of the link, an 8 percent jump from 2002. In addition, 62 percent of consumers mentioned fats as a factor related to heart disease, compared with 53 percent in 2002
—Eighty-one percent of consumers know that certain foods or drinks may help prevent heart disease or heart attacks. This result showed no change from 2002
—While fruits and vegetables were most frequently linked with reducing heart disease, fewer people made this link in 2008 than in 2002
—Consumers’ awareness that trans fats in the diet may raise the risk of heart disease nearly doubled in just four years, from 32 percent in 2004 to 62 percent
—Knowledge that omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risk of heart disease increased from 31 percent in 2004 to 52 percent in 200
—Knowledge that saturated fat may raise the risk of heart disease was stable: it was 74 percent in 2004 and 73 percent in 2008

With regard to food labels, more than half (54 percent) of consumers said they read a product’s label the first time they buy the product. That’s a 10 percent increase from 2002.

Among those who in 2008 reported they read the nutrition label the first time they buy a product:

—Two-thirds use the label “often” to check how high or low a food is in calories, and in substances such as salt, vitamins and fat
—Fifty-five percent “often” use the label to get a general idea of the food’s nutritional content, while 46 percent “often” use the calorie information on the label. Thirty-four percent rarely or never use the calorie information
—Thirty-eight percent of consumers said they use nutrient content claims (such as “low fat,” “high fiber” and “cholesterol-free”) “often”; 34 percent answered “sometimes.”
—When asked whether they refer to the label claim of “0 grams of trans fat,” 31 percent said “often” and 36 percent said “sometimes

FDA’s latest Health and Diet survey also found differing degrees of trust regarding claims found on food labels. For example, 41 percent of consumers believe that all or most claims such as “low fat,” “high fiber” or “cholesterol-free” are accurate, while 56 percent believe that some or none of them are accurate.

Also, 64 percent of consumers reported seeing nutrition labeling on menus, napkins or place mats in restaurants. About half of these consumers use this information often or sometimes.

The survey also examined eating habits, key highlights of which found that 54 percent of consumers reported eating breakfast seven days a week, while 8 percent said they skip the meal every day. In contrast, 86 percent said they eat dinner seven days a week, while 1 percent said they always skip it.

Additional information about the survey can be found by visiting