[From Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 41st Annual Meeting. Copyright 1997 by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, P.O. Box 1369, Santa Monica, CA 90406-1369 USA; 310/394-1811, Fax 310/394-2410, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://hfes.org. All rights reserved. To obtain the full article (with tables and figures), contact Lois Smith at the HFES office.]
An Evaluation of Nutrition Label Quantifier Terms: Consumer Perceptions vs. FDA Definitions
Marc L. Resnick, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Florida International University, Miami, Florida
The FDA has regulated food label nutrition claims such as "reduced sodium" and "low fat" since it began enforcing the Nutritional Label and Education Act in 1994. However, there has yet been no quantitative evidence that the FDA's definitions of these quantifier terms correspond to consumers' perceptions of what the terms mean. This study investigated three common quantifier terms used on food labels (reduced, low and free) in relation to four dietary components (fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol). Subjects were shown food labels that were modified to contain every combination of these quantifiers and dietary components and asked to report how much of the component was present in one serving of the food item. The results show that consumers' understanding of these terms do not correspond with the FDA's regulations. For the seven combinations for which the FDA has a specific numerical definition, subjects significantly overestimated all seven. Furthermore, the perception of each quantifier term was affected by the dietary component being modified, the food item being evaluated and the subject doing the evaluating. These results suggest that in order for food labels to provide accurate information for consumers, the definitions of these quantifier terms must be adjusted.