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Who performs better? An objective assessment of consumers ability to perform food label-based, nutrition information assessments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2010

D. Mackison
Affiliation:
Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK
A. S. Anderson
Affiliation:
Centre for Public Health Nutrition Research, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 9SY, UK
W. L. Wrieden
Affiliation:
School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen AB25 IHG, UK
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Abstract

Type
Abstract
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 2010

In order to use nutrition label information to guide healthy food choices, consumers require a basic understanding of nutrition communications. Reviews of the literature highlight gaps in understanding (e.g. desirable and less desirable levels of intake) and competence (ability to identify differences in nutrient content)(Reference Cowburn and Stockley1, Reference Grunert and Wills2). The current study objectively examines the consumers' ability to assess nutrition label information.

A short postal survey (which underwent reliability, validity, item discrimination and item difficulty assessment)(Reference Mackison, Wrieden and Anderson3) was distributed to a nation-wide sample representative of gender, age and socio-economic (SES) position(4) of the UK population. The survey included a 10-item measurement tool on ability to perform food label-based, nutrition information assessments. The questions comprised numerical (n 3) and comprehension tasks (n 7) with a possible performance score of 0 to 10. Kruskal Wallis and Mann–Whitney U tests were used to test for differences between overall performance score and demographic variables (gender, age, educational attainment and SES). Completed responses for 786 UK adults (35.5% male and 64.5% female) aged 18 upwards and representative of SES for the UK population were obtained.

Overall, the mean performance score was 6.7 (sd±2.3) and 77% obtained >5. No significant difference was detected by gender. Respondents <50 years were significantly more likely to obtain a high score than those aged ≥50 years (P<0.05). Kruskal Wallis tests indicated that score increased with higher levels of educational attainment (P<0.001) and SES (e.g. more affluent) (P<0.001).

* N=numerical question; †C=comprehension question.

In conclusion, current nutrition information presentation is unlikely to provide optimal assistance for consumers from more disadvantaged backgrounds and further work is needed to enhance existing nutrition communication for vulnerable groups.

Funding provided by the Food Standards Agency Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme.

References

1.Cowburn, G & Stockley, L (2005) Consumer understanding and use of nutrition labelling: a systematic review. Public Health Nutr 8, 2128.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
2.Grunert, KJ & Wills, JM (2007) A review of European research on consumer response to nutrition information on food labels. J Public Health 15, 385399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
3.Mackison, D, Wrieden, WL & Anderson, AS (2010) Validity and reliability testing of a short questionnaire developed to assess consumers' use, understanding and perception of food labels. Eur J Clin Nut 64, 210217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
4.CACI (2006) Acorn the Smarter Consumer Classification User Guide. http://www.caci.co.uk/brochures.aspxGoogle Scholar
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