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Parental Understanding Of Food Nutrition Labels Could Have Impact On Pediatric Obesity Rates

Front-of-Package Labeling Easier to Understand Than Standard Nutrition Facts Label; New Study Shows

NEW YORK (May 6, 2013) – Inner-city parents who read and understand food nutrition labels tend to make healthier choices for their families, according to a new study from researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). A majority of parents (63 percent) said they read food labels when purchasing foods for the first time, and 42 percent reported that labeling had an impact on their purchasing decisions in the last two weeks. When the label wasn’t read, parents said it was because the product was too expensive, the label was too complex or the font size was too small, or they simply didn’t have time. These findings were presented today at the Pediatric
Academic Societies (PAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Since obesity rates are highest amongst inner-city children, we thought it was important to fully understand their parents’ habits when it comes to reading and understanding nutrition labels,” said Sandra Braganza, M.D., M.P.H., interim director, Residency Program in Social Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, The Children's Hospital at Montefiore and assistant professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. “These data show that understanding food labels could have a significant impact on childhood obesity rates, given that caregivers make the majority of food purchasing decisions for their households.”

The study, which surveyed 70 parents, also compared literacy and comprehension of Front-of-Package (FOP) food labels, which are not available on all food products, to the back-of-the-box Nutrition Facts Labels (NFL), which are mandated on all products and tend to be complex and difficult to understand. Participants studied the NFL and FOP labels from a cereal box and then were asked to locate calorie information, calculate calories based on serving size, identify the amount of sodium and compare sugar content in two products. Researchers found that parents demonstrated statistically significant improvements in comprehension using the FOP label for each category, with 87 percent getting all questions correct versus 67 percent using the NFL label.

“Based on our research, we believe standardized, easy-to-read, front-of-package labeling is needed to help consumers make more informed and healthy decisions,” said lead author Chloe Turner, M.D., a third year Social Pediatrics resident in the Department of Pediatrics, CHAM. “Pediatric obesity is a serious issue in the Bronx and across the nation, so it’s important that we explore options to help parents make smart decisions for their children.”

Immediately following the survey, parents were given educational materials and spoke with medical experts at CHAM about reading food labels. Working with inner-city
families in one of the unhealthiest counties in the nation, CHAM clinicians are at the front lines of providing comprehensive care for a diverse and medically challenged population. The institution has implemented numerous community health and wellness programs designed to improve health outcomes for families today as well as for future generations.