Food label reading habits of low-income women and women from the general population

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Virginia Tech

The National Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) mandates that the Food and Drug Administration overhaul existing food labeling regulations and provide the consumer with a standardized, informative food-labeling policy. The intended benefit is the elimination of the confusion currently surrounding food labeling and an improvement in the dietary practices of the American public.

The aim of this study was to measure the differences in the food-label reading habits, attitudes, and understanding of low-income women participating in the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and of women from the general population. All subjects were the primary household food shoppers.

In both groups, 90% "almost always" or "sometimes" read a food label. The food label influenced a purchase decision "a great deal" for 47% of the WIC group and 56% of the control group. Of the two groups, a significant number of WIC participants found the food label significantly easier to understand yet scored significantly lower on the test of nutrition knowledge and label understanding than the control group, particularly on the subject of dietary fat. In addition to calories, the WIC group looked for iron, vitamins, calcium, and protein information, while the control group was more interested in fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Both groups relied upon the media, doctors and food labels for nutrition information.

This study suggests that the education component of the NLEA must address the nutrition needs of low-income WIC participants (who are pregnant or have small children). This nutritionally at-risk population would greatly benefit from the education portion of the forthcoming labeling reform.