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In New Zealand the burden of nutrition-related disease is greatest among Māori, Pacific and low-income peoples. Nutrition labels have the potential to promote healthy food choices and eating behaviours. To date, there has been a noticeable lack of research among indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and low-income populations regarding their perceptions, use and understanding of nutrition labels. Our aim was to evaluate perceptions of New Zealand nutrition labels by Māori, Pacific and low-income peoples and to explore improvements or alternatives to current labelling systems.
Māori, Samoan and Tongan researchers recruited participants who were regular food shoppers. Six focus groups were conducted which involved 158 people in total: one Māori group, one Samoan, one Tongan, and three low-income groups.
Māori, Pacific and low-income New Zealanders rarely use nutrition labels to assist them with their food purchases for a number of reasons, including lack of time to read labels, lack of understanding, shopping habits and relative absence of simple nutrition labels on the low-cost foods they purchase.
Current New Zealand nutrition labels are not meeting the needs of those who need them most. Possible improvements include targeted social marketing and education campaigns, increasing the number of low-cost foods with voluntary nutrition labels, a reduction in the price of ‘healthy’ food, and consideration of an alternative mandatory nutrition labelling system that uses simple imagery like traffic lights.
To pilot the design and methodology for a large randomised controlled trial (RCT) of two interventions to promote healthier food purchasing: culturally appropriate nutrition education and price discounts.
A 12-week, single-blind, pilot RCT. Effects on food purchases were measured using individualised electronic shopping data (‘Shop ’N Go’ system). Partial data were also collected on food expenditure at other (non-supermarket) retail outlets.
A supermarket in Wellington, New Zealand.
Eligible customers were those who were the main household shoppers, shopped mainly at the participating store, and were registered to use the Shop ’N Go system. Ninety-seven supermarket customers (72% women; age 40 ± 9.6 years, mean ± standard deviation) were randomised to one of four intervention groups: price discounts, nutrition education, a combination of price discounts and nutrition education, or control (no intervention).
There was a 98% follow-up rate of participants, with 85% of all reported supermarket purchases being captured via the electronic data collection system. The pilot did, however, demonstrate difficulty recruiting Maori, Pacific and low-income shoppers using the electronic register and mail-out.
This pilot study showed that electronic sales data capture is a viable way to measure effects of study interventions on food purchases in supermarkets, and points to the feasibility of conducting a large-scale RCT to evaluate the effectiveness of price discounts and nutrition education. Recruitment strategies will, however, need to be modified for the main trial in order to ensure inclusion of all ethnic and socio-economic groups.
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