Monday, March 15, 2010

More Consumers are Reading Food Labels

The Food and Drug Administration recently reported the results of the 2008 US Health and Diet Survey, and reported that more American consumers read food labels than the prior survey in 2002.

Not surprising, right?

But get this – even though more Americans are reading food labels, only 54% report that they “often” read foods labels the first time they buy a product. I find it interesting that there was no option to choose “always” as a response to the question on how often you read food labels.

For those of us who have food-allergic or gluten-free families “always” or at least “almost always” would be the appropriate choice.

They also tested the nutrient claims that are made on the front of the packages. These were aimed at determining how much consumers relied on claims like “low-fat”, or “zero grams trans fat”, or “cholesterol-free”. There were no questions on “gluten-free”, or “wheat-free”, or “dairy-free”…

In fact, nowhere in the survey did they test allergen labeling, or gluten-free labeling. There was one question (just one) that asked if consumers read labels to “see if there is an ingredient that you or someone in your family should avoid”. Forty eight percent responded “often” to that question.

The survey is intended to “assess the United States adult population’s self-reported behaviors, knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about health and diet”. There was a strong focus on the link between diet and heart disease and that is clearly a good thing. But I’m baffled as to why there were no questions aimed at determining the effectiveness and use of allergen labeling. Check out the entire survey here.

Are food allergies less of a concern than heart disease? Or is this just a sign of a slow-moving FDA that hasn’t caught up with the extreme rise in food allergies? What do you think?

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