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Food labelling 'not as effective as it should be'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Food labelling 'not as effective as it should be'

Nutritional food labels are not as effective as once thought and could be impacting on the health of New Zealanders, University of Canterbury (UC) research has discovered.

Consumers react better to labels which provide relatable, transparent information that is easily converted into exercise expenditure or clearly states which products are good and which are bad.

The UC marketing study collected a total of 591 online responses. Participants were given an identical survey, only the way in which the nutritional information was communicated, differed.

Postgraduate student Michelle Bouton says the items labels included walking and running labels which stated how many minutes of exercise were needed to burn off the product.

We also included a star system which displayed one, two or three stars on the product, depending on how many calories were in it. A traffic light label was divided into five categories of the main nutritional components and coloured red (bad), orange (moderate) or green (good).

Our findings showed that the current daily intake system was so insignificant that only 23 percent of participants recalled seeing it. This was alarmingly low compared to the recall rate of the running (89 percent), walking (93 percent) and traffic light label (70 percent).

Our study found that those who were presented with the walking label were most likely to make healthier consumption choices, regardless of their level of preventive health behavior.

Therefore, consumers who reported to be unhealthier were likely to modify their current negative behaviour and exercise, select a healthier alternative or avoid the unhealthy product entirely when told they would need to briskly walk for one hour and 41 minutes to burn off the product.

The traffic light system was found to be effective in deterring consumers from unhealthy foods, while also encouraging them to consume healthy products.

Although the running label was found to be effective with participants who reported a healthy lifestyle, it was found to be ineffective with those who were yet to adopt a healthy lifestyle. A consumer who does not actively exercise is less likely to start running than a consumer who is already active.’’

Associate Professor Ekant Veer, who supervised the study, says the findings differ from what people initially thought would be an effective communication method.

Information and numeric figures are ineffective at aiding consumers with low levels of health literacy to make healthy consumption choices. Images and colours are found to be much more effective and understandable forms of communication.

As the overwhelmingly high obesity rates in New Zealand continue to climb, something needs to be done to improve the health of our society. This information provides valuable insight into understanding consumption behaviours’ associated to food labels. New Zealand still has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.’’

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