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Food Label & Calorie Research: Qualitative Research Findings

May 17, 2005

In response to the increasing rates of obesity in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Obesity Working Group concluded that weight management could potentially be achieved through calorie balance-–in other words, calories in must equal calories out. Therefore, in March 2004, the FDA launched a series of investigations as part of the “Calories Count” campaign. This specific investigation focused on revising the food label to make caloric information and serving sizes easier to find and more useful for weight control.

In August 2004, in order to assess consumers’ understanding of food labels and calories and how this information might influence their eating behaviors, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation commissioned Strategy One to conduct qualitative research designed to achieve the following objectives:

  • Are consumers using calorie information on food labels?
  • Do they know how to calculate calorie information with servings?
  • Does including the % Daily Value for calories affect one’s understanding of calorie consumption?
  • What are consumer perceptions on single serving and multi serving packages?
  • Will changing calorie labeling change or impact behavior?

Four focus groups—two in Baltimore, MD and two in Chicago, IL—were conducted for the qualitative phase of this project. Three groups comprised “nutrition aware” consumers and the fourth group consisted of consumers who had limited use of the Nutrition Facts Panel or food label. Consumer reactions to food labels today indicate that while changing the food label is not likely to be a “silver bullet” in changing how Americans regulate their overall food intake, it is possible that simplifying the information provided on the food label may assist consumers in making more informed food choices. Other findings specific to the alternative labeling options emphasizing calories and serving size reveal that:

  • Consumers reacted favorably to a larger and bolder Calorie line on the food label, which represents the entire single serve package as one serving, responding that this makes it easier to find calorie information for the whole package.
  • Including the % Daily Value for calories on the food label assists consumers in interpreting how that food may fit into their total diet.
  • Consumers responded positively to the dual column label showing nutrition information for a serving and for the entire package, in addition to a larger and bolder Calorie line and the % Daily Value for calories. This label format was found helpful for regulating consumption on an individual basis.

Funding for this research was provided by an unrestricted grant from the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Read the full research report (PDF)

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