Supermarket shelf labels help African Americans, others shop healthier, study finds

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Color-coded labels placed on supermarket shelves to mark healthier food choices are effective in helping guide African Americans and others in their grocery shopping, a new study from the University of Michigan shows. The education program may help shoppers lower their risk of diet-related health problems such as heart disease.

The finding, which adds to similar evidence already gathered among predominantly white populations, was made by dietitians and others from the U-M Health System's Heart Care Program and M-Fit Health Promotion Division. It is published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Given the epidemic of heart disease that we see in African Americans, and the difficulty in reaching them with health messages, we're encouraged that this kind of nutrition advice at the point of purchase seems able to encourage healthy behavior," says Kim Eagle, M.D., chief of cardiology at UMHS, co-director of the Heart Care Program and a co-author on the paper.

The study looked at the effect of the M-Fit Shelf Labeling Program on shopper awareness and behavior after one year's use in 18 Detroit-region supermarkets. It used a simple survey given at store exits to 361 shoppers, a cross-section sample that was 67 percent African American, 66 percent female, and 84 percent high school graduates.

The program's dietitians have analyzed nutrition information for most products in the Detroit supermarkets, and determined which should receive a green "best choice" or yellow "acceptable choice" label understandable by shoppers at all education levels. Foods receive the labels on the basis of total fat, saturated fat, fiber, cholesterol, and sodium content. The program's recommendations are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over 3,760 products received labels, while in-store signs, books and banners helped explain the shelf labeling program further.

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Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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