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Consumer confusion about wholegrain content and healthfulness in product labels: a discrete choice experiment and comprehension assessment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2020

Parke Wilde
Affiliation:
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA
Jennifer L Pomeranz
Affiliation:
School of Global Public Health, New York University, New York, NY, USA
Lauren J Lizewski
Affiliation:
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA
Fang Fang Zhang
Affiliation:
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Objective:

Using a legal standard for scrutinising the regulation of food label claims, this study assessed whether consumers are misled about wholegrain (WG) content and product healthfulness based on common product labels.

Design:

First, a discrete choice experiment used pairs of hypothetical products with different amounts of WG, sugar and salt to measure effects on assessment of healthfulness; and second, a WG content comprehension assessment used actual product labels to assess respondent understanding.

Setting:

Online national panel survey.

Participants:

For a representative sample of US adults (n 1030), survey responses were collected in 2018 and analysed in 2019.

Results:

First, 29–47 % of respondents incorrectly identified the healthier product from paired options, and respondents who self-identified as having difficulty in understanding labels were more likely to err. Second, for actual products composed primarily of refined grains, 43–51 % of respondents overstated the WG content, whereas for one product composed primarily of WG, 17 % of respondents understated the WG content.

Conclusions:

The frequency of consumer misunderstanding of grain product labels was high in both study components. Potential policies to address consumer confusion include requiring disclosure of WG content as a percentage of total grain content or requiring disclosure of the grams of WG v. refined grains per serving.

Type
Research paper
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Nutrition Society

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