The Obama administration is considering new rules governing what food manufacturers must put on their labels to inform consumers about the ingredients used. Some suggestions from labeling advocates include making the number of calories larger, along with fat and sugar content.
The problem, is that an infintesimally small percentage of shoppers actually read the labels.This study, published in Time back in 2011, shows us that about a third of people will tell researchers that they read what’s in the food they buy, but their eyes betray their true interest:
For each item, the screen was divided into three columns: one column contained an image of the food, with a list of ingredients; another section contained the food’s price and description; and the third showed the item’s Nutrition Facts label. The shopping program was synced with an eye-tracking device that monitored what the shoppers’ viewed, tracking 1,000 eye movements per second. After the buying task, the participants were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their usual grocery shopping and health-related behaviors.
Researchers found a big difference between what the eye tracker said people looked at and what the participants self-reported they typically looked at while shopping. Thirty-three percent of participants said they “almost always” looked at a product’s calorie content on the Nutrition Facts label; 31% said they almost always looked at total fat content (20% said they looked at trans fats); 24% said they studied products’ sugar content and 26% said they paid close attention to serving size.
What the eye-tracking data showed: only 9% looked at calorie count for almost all the items in the experiment; 1% looked at each of the other components, including fat, trans fat, sugar and serving size, for almost all of the products.
O.K., so they didn’t look at nutrition labels as much as they claimed, but more than 70% of the participants viewed at least one component of the average Nutrition Facts label at least some of the time. And more than half viewed each of ﬁve label components (servings, calories, total fat, saturated fat and trans fat) on the average label.
The changes being proposed by the Obama administration would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement.