Healthy choices: Can nutrition labels help us stick to better diets?

By Tim Cutcliffe

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
Nutritional labelling could help motivate people to eat healthier, according to new Spanish research demonstrating a link between label use and intake of fruits, vegetables and fish.

The study, led by scientists at the Miguel Hernandez University, Alicante, surveyed more than one thousand university students about their use of nutritional labels and dietary intakes.

Writing in Nutrients, ​the Spanish authors reveal that those who use nutrition labels had a closer adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet when compared with those who did not use labels.

Nutritional label users were also found to consume greater intakes of fruits, vegetables and fish, and lower intakes of meat than those who did not use labelling, said the team led by Professor Manuela García-de-la-Hera.

According to the team, the main reasons for using nutrition labels stated by participants were associated with health, or to follow a healthy diet and to lose and/or control weight. Furthermore, non-users of labels did so mainly because they did not have enough time or simply were not interested, the team said.

“In our study, the proportion of nutrition label users was moderate, even considering that the participants were health science students​,” said the researchers - noting that the study population and the fact that students voluntarily participated may have created some response bias.

García-de-la-Hera and her team said nutrition labels have potential to drive healthier diets, however a lack of research regarding strategies to motivate people to read nutrition labels - and improve their food choices and increase their nutritional knowledge - means that further studies focused on this issue are required.

Study details

The Diet, Health and Anthropometry – University Miguel Hernandez (DiSA-UMH) Project is a prospective cohort study. Participants were asked to answer whether they usually read the nutrition labelling of packaged foods and were classified as label users or non-users according to their response. 

Adherence to the MD was assessed using the relative Mediterranean Diet Score (rMED) (a validated indexation method) in which positive scores are attributed for fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, olive oil, and cereals. Negative scores are awarded for meat and dairy products.  The total rMED scores were then aggregated into three groups: designating low, medium and high adherence.

“Our approach contributes to exploring the role of nutritional labels use as a suitable tool to make healthier food choices from a different wider perspective based on dietary patterns such as Mediterranean Diet (MD), which can also indicate an overall healthy lifestyle,” ​ commented lead researcher Professor Manuela García-de-la-Hera.

Of the 1,026 participants surveyed, the team reported that 58% of the population used nutritional labels. According to the team, label users were also more likely to be female and physically active or very active.

In a sub-analysis, 738 participants were asked their reasons for using or not using nutritional labels. 

“Our data are far from being able to establish a possible causal link between nutrition label use and higher adherence to MD, but they constitute a suitable rationale for replicating in other samples.

Therefore, additional large-scale longitudinal studies are necessary to corroborate our findings and explore other aspects not covered in this study, such as nutritional knowledge, consumer preferences, or participant skills​,” the authors said.

Source: Nutrients
Volume 10, issue 4, article no. 442, doi: 10.3390/nu10040442
“Nutrition Labelling Use and Higher Adherence to Mediterranean Diet: Results from the DiSA-UMH Study”
Authors: Eva María Navarrete-Muñoz, Manuela García-de-la-Hera et al

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