About 60 percent pay attention to nutrition facts
August 5th, 2010
04:45 PM ET

About 60 percent pay attention to nutrition facts

Who reads nutrition labels?

More than half do, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. About 61.5 percent reported using the nutrition facts panel when deciding to purchase food. Fewer people paid attention to the list of ingredients (51.6 percent), the serving size (47.2 percent), and health claims (43.8 percent).

The findings from Columbia University reported that women with some college education were more likely to use the nutrition labels. Those who used them reported fewer calories, fat, saturated fat, and sugar intake than participants who did not pay attention.

Researchers used information from a 2005-2006 survey in which 5,502 participants answered questions on food label use and completed two 24-hour recalls of what they ate. The study also found that participants with limited English language skills had reduced rates of label use, indicating that language could be a barrier.

Read the abstract

“If food labels are to have greater influence on public health, rates of use will likely need to be increased among US adults,” wrote the study authors.

Some suggestions for changing nutrition labels have been to have calories in bold type to or to issue more intuitive labeling using colors like red, yellow and green on food labels.

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Jeff S

    I think putting the calories in bold is a terrible idea. Most people don't understand what's really important when it comes to nutrition, and think that if they eat the right amount of calories, they're doing the right thing. The right amount of quality nutrition, proper levels of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and good fats, while keeping down the intake of saturated fat, trans-fats, and sugars is far more important than caloric intake.

    People need more education about what's really important, but from what I see, the last thing the corporate food lobby wants is for people to have a better understanding of what they're eating.

    August 5, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aasim

      While that may be true, that is not to say that "calories don't count."
      In a nationwhere obesity, a disease linked with many other medical problems, is quickly becoming an epidemic, we must return to the basic sciences of what makes a person a fat: the energy balance. If you take in more calories than you burn, your body will store the extra energy in your fat cells.
      Because even if you eat completely healthy food, in the end, if you eat too much of it, you will become fat.
      Now the thing is, a person should be healthy and lean, not just healthy (eating right), or not just lean (low bodyfat). So in the end, my point is, do not ignore calories, because they help in weight maintainenece, and at the same time like Jeff says, don't ignore the quality of the food, aka the vitamins/nutrients that come with the food. To sum it up in a sentence, both the quantity and quality of food matter, not merely one.
      Source: Tom Venuto's "The Bodyfat Solution"

      August 6, 2010 at 07:38 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      I agree that you can't just brush aside calories as not important. As someone who was obese I started to lose weight by strictly counting calories. What I found was .. yes, I can eat a brownie for breakfast, maybe even two, and keep my calories at around 400. But then in about an hour I'm going to be hungry again because there's no other real nutritive value to brownies. So I'd rather grab two eggs, a piece of toast, and a small glass of OJ and have that protein in my system to tide me over for several additional hours. So with counting calories there comes a greater understand of WHAT you're putting in your body. I can't eat 10 brownies between 7am and 12pm so it's not realistic. I'd rather have a salad for lunch with some chicken on it then a slice of pizza (even though the pizza might have fewer calories). So you learn, and counting calories helps you learn that. Besides, putting calories will help draw attention to the nutrition panel as a whole.

      August 6, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse |
    • J. McDermott

      I have to disagree. I used to be overweight, but I found that when I strictly (but not obsessively) counted calories based on the label, and chose healthy foods, I lost weight much more easily than expected. Keeping it off was fairly simple too - I do a rough calorie count of everything I'm eating, then don't exceed my budget except for one day a week (to maintain my motivation). The weight hasn't come back. Good job FDA!

      August 6, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
    • PubHealth

      Jeff S...I agree with your statements 100%. It's good to know some people out there realize that calories is NOT the primary predictor in human health. It is quality of food that counts just as you say via the micro and macro biocomponents.

      "Coloring" the labeling on products does nothing to explain what is in the products. Let's face it...if people are eating foods with nutrition labels on them then perhaps they are eating the wrong foods to begin with (cans, packages, cartons, bins, etc.). That's why I scoff at foods like Weight Watchers and the like. Have you seen the ingredients in these things?!

      How can they make the wonderful claim of low calorie in one of these packaged "meals" when one of the ingredients is High Fructose Corn Syrup? No wonder people are unhealthy!

      August 9, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
  2. Noocrat

    60% might "glance at it", but that doesn't mean they have any comprehension of what they're reading.

    "A 2000 calorie diet" is some absurd thing made for either medium-small sized men or medium-large women. A 120 lb woman with a sedentary diet probably burns 16/1700 calories to maintain their weight. A 180 lb man who runs 10 miles a day probably needs about 3500 calories to maintain their weight.

    How many people know the standard required amount of protein a day is 60g? (average, varies a lot based on lifestyle)

    Basically, what I'm getting at is that it doesn't matter if you look at it if you don't know what you need or you don't know what it means. There needs to be some additional education for it to be useful.

    August 5, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LEB

      Agreed! I'm that 120 lb woman who definitely does NOT need to eat 2000 calories a day, so I self-adjust when I read labels. Perhaps label reading (including an explanation of what those scientific-sound food additives really are) should be part of middle school and high school health curriculum.

      August 5, 2010 at 17:45 | Report abuse |
    • cube dweller

      completely agree with you as well. i'm a 120 lb woman and with my metabolism and lifestyle, i'm perfectly find with a 1500 calorie diet. however, other people see me eat and think i eat abnormally small portions, while they go and stuff their faces with the portion sizes that american restaurants serve you nowadays.

      on a separate note, a lot of people don't even take into account what the serving size says. they just look at the amount of calories and eat it thinking it's healthy, when the serving size could be 6.

      i agree that people need to be more educated on reading these labe.s

      August 5, 2010 at 18:15 | Report abuse |
    • Lucy

      What do you want? A comprehensive explanation of caloric intake on the back of each nutrition label? Everything you ever wanted to know about health is out there on the internet, anybody with web access can educate himself. Anybody without web access probably has bigger things to worry about. I'm a 125 very active 24 year female and I know I need to eat over 2000 calories a day to maintain my weight by the simple calorie in vs. calorie burned equation, and the fact that I know when I lose weight when I don't eat enough. If anybody can't figure that out, it's the education system we need to worry about.

      August 6, 2010 at 00:56 | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      I think at the very least it can give you an eye opener to see how many calories are in certain things. Often people have more of just a feeling about whether something is low or high calorie. Sometimes you are dead wrong and are eating vast amounts of higher than you realize calorie foods. So I think it's good to just take a peek – along with seeing how many servings is in that thing you are treating as a single serving size (another cute trick they do – who drinks half a can of soda?).

      August 6, 2010 at 10:19 | Report abuse |
  3. Dr Bill Toth

    Even if people read and understand the labels the decision process still boils down to; "Knowing what to do vs Doing what you know". Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    August 5, 2010 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. nomoregbldgk

    Everyone should read them not just to get the calorie count but learn what exactly it is they are ingesting.

    August 5, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Demara

    I'm sixteen and always look at nutrition labels. I notice if a serving is only "one candy" in a pack of fifty, which makes it impossible to tell how much nutrition is in the pack at first glance without dissecting the information.

    August 5, 2010 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MrTeflon

    I would rather see all details for the "Entire" container and not details per serving.Then printed in microscopic letter "6 serving's per container".
    That in itself is a food Industry Scam.

    August 5, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Trish

      I would like to see companies being forced to put the exact number of calories per serving and not be able to round down. I too would like to see what you mention.

      August 5, 2010 at 20:29 | Report abuse |
    • Willow

      I agree with this.

      August 5, 2010 at 20:38 | Report abuse |
  7. DEB

    Nearly everyone has access to the internet these days and can find information on how to read labels and what it means if they want to..
    They can find all kinds of worthless information but it takes only a little motivation to look for something that really might teach you something.

    August 5, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Trish

    Also on the second language thing... when I lived in Germany and Japan I would look for numbers even though I couldn't read any of the words. If a package is 500g and a 100g serving was 147 kcal it was pretty easy to figure it out.

    August 5, 2010 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Willow

    Most people need far less than 2000 calories a day. If you're sitting all day you need like 1400-1700. 2000 is far far more than the average person needs. IMO they need to stop making percentages and just list mg of things. There are plenty of free calorie tracking sites so if people want to use them, they can. Also as someone doing Weight Watchers, I must agree with the entire container calorie thing. Show calories for the entire container, not just a small portion, since most people who do not have spare time to measure things out using measuring cups and spoons.

    August 5, 2010 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MoodyMoody

    I think that, in many cases, the government should change the "serving" size. For example, who buys a 20 ounce soda and makes 2.5 servings from it? In other cases, the suggested serving size is appropriate. Most people don't eat a whole box of pasta at a time.

    Rule of hand is helpful when you can't actually measure. Check out the book The Portion Teller for more information.

    August 5, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ljalex

    I always check sodium levels, it's an easy thing to avoid or change in the diet. They add TOO MUCH SALT to EVERYTHING!!! I really don't check calories that strictly (probably should), I just don't eat a massive amount of anything.

    August 5, 2010 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Wet Wolf

    The only problem with reading nutrition labels is that women only read the wrong thing –**Calories**

    Yes, counting calories is the number one mistake you can make when reading a butrition label.


    August 6, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Troy

    Everyone has different metabolism levels and exercise habits. There should not be a "general" recommendation for all people. Individuals should consult with a nutritionist/Doctor to ascertain their individual needs for calories and nutrition. Remember, you don't have to count calories when buying food because your body does it for you when you eat that food, "extras" are put in the cabinets called fat.

    August 6, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ellen

    I read nutrition labels all the time. My problem is that a microwavable soup container is 2 servings, for example. So I eat only half of one, but it is rather a pain to do so, since it is hard to tell if I use 1/2 of all the meat or veggies exactly in the first half of the container.

    August 6, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jp

      take them out and count them.....DUH
      I mean you probably shouldn't be eating soup that comes in a microwavable container anyway...what is the point of counting calories of that....the bigger problem with that garbage is the 50,000mg of sodium in each container.

      August 6, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
    • Pepper

      Oh my goodness! Did your really just complain about not knowing if you have 1/2 of everything from your soup, really? Why don't you put your effort into something to help others/mankind rather than worry if you ate one too many pieces of meat in your soup.

      August 6, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  15. Holly

    I always read the labels, ive educated myself on how many calories/ fat I should intake for the day, so without the labels id be in the dark, some things are no brainers, other food items ive been surprised at just how fatty they were

    August 6, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Steve

    I'd prefer nutrition labels that listed the actual ingredients of a particular food. That something "may contain one or more of the following" is not useful information. If makers can't keep more consistent control of their production than that, they don't need to be selling food to the public. Catch-all phrases like "natural or artificial flavorings" and "starch" are also just a convenient way of disguising the true contents. As has been said, food labeling guidelines in this country are worthless.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Happy Loser

    I always read the nutrition labels and try to stick with the 5/15 rule on snacks. Nothing more than 5 fat grams and 15 carb grams. Also protein, need to get 64 grams per day. Lay off the junk food, fast food and sodas and the weight will come off. I went from 370lbs to 170lbs in about 18 months. It can be done. Walking and biking great exercise.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Debbie


      My doctor put me on a 1500 calorie a day diet, did not say anything about counting fat grams, sodium intake or anything strictly 1500 calories a day. I've been on this since the 24th of May and have dropped 37 pounds. I walk about 5 miles everyday and eat what I want just in moderation. My sister is a cardiac nurse practitioner and is on the same diet and she says she's not counting anything but calories either. I am a very picky eater so just counting the calories and walking works without having to monitor all of the fat, carbs, protein or anything else on the label.

      August 6, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  18. Jean

    I pay very close attention to calories, sugar and carbs on labels. I have low blood sugar, so sugar and carbs are really important to me. It is true that simply looking at calories will not give you the full picture. I have noticed when I am looking at nutrition labels, people often are staring at me like I'm nuts. Of course I live in the south, and by the looks of most people they simply don't bother looking at anything nutritious.

    August 6, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jackstrawdc

    Just read the ingredients and don't eat anything that contains mostly sugar (unless it's dessert), white flour, hydrogenated oil, artificial colors or flavors, any preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, msg or artificial sweeteners. That's the simple rule to follow. People are more concerned about what's not in their food... what's in it is more important.

    August 6, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. a_girl

    I absoluteley read the labels. Sodium content, calories, fat and protein. The gluten allergy forced me to as well. I also look to see how many perservatives are listed. Since doing this, eating fresher food and walking a little, I have lost 10 lbs. in 2 months. I am able to track my food intake and this tool has helped me devolp healthier eating habits. Just 90 lbs. to go. Having more energy and few digestive problems is priceless and absolutely worth the time it takes to read a label.

    August 6, 2010 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. going rogue

    If the food has a label... it ain't that healthy to begin with.

    August 6, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Dr Jorge Delgado Pauta

    EL uso de color rojo para cantidad de calorías, grasa, sodio, preservantes, colorantes, saborizantes artificiales y verde para la cantidad de proteína es una excelente alternativa para ayudar a captar el mensaje de contenido nutricional.

    August 6, 2010 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dr Jorge Delgado Pauta

    The use of red for calories, fat, sodium, preservatives, colorings, artificial flavorings and green for the amount of protein is an excellent choice to help get the message of nutritional content.

    August 6, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tonmoy

    Reading the nutrition label doesn't mean that they are conscious about health and nutrition. The most important thing is that they should know the ingredents in the supplement and is they are actually have or necessary for them. At first they should aware about what is likely for them and what they are buying.

    March 5, 2012 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Mary Smith

    Hey, I thought this was a great article. Thank you for sharing.


    June 14, 2014 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Ryan Strebeck

    Under half apparently care about their health.

    October 31, 2015 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply

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