Is food labelling an effective way to reduce calorie intake and obesity?

Is food labelling an effective way to reduce calorie intake and obesity?
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The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, United States has assessed whether food labelling correlates to a reduction in calorie intake and obesity.

The study assessed the success food labelling as a strategy to encourage healthier food consumption and reduce calorie intake as well as other intakes such as fat. The research shows that while labelling is effective at reducing calorie intake, there are other markers relating to obesity and health food consumption that food labelling strategies have not made a difference in.

Senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., said: “Many old and new food policies focus on labelling, whether on food packages or restaurant menus. Remarkably, the effectiveness of these labels, whether for changing consumers’ choices or industry product formulations, has not been clear. Our findings provide new evidence on what might work, and what might not, when implementing food labelling.”

Does food labelling reduce calorie intake and obesity?

The researchers analysed pooled studies that included food labelling on menus, product packaging, or other point-of-purchase materials, such as placards on supermarket shelves.

The analysis showed that food labelling reduced consumers’ intake of:
•Calories by 6.6 percent;
•Total fat by 10.6 percent; and
•Other unhealthy food options by 13 percent.

Labelling also increased consumers’ vegetable consumption by 13.5 percent.

However, it was also found that food labelling did not significantly impact consumer intakes of some other targets, such as the total consumption of:
•Saturated fat;
•Whole grains; or
•Other healthy options.

The limitations of the study

There were some limitations of the study noted. While all of the studies were interventional, many of them were non-randomised. The studies of restaurant labelling often assessed the consumer effects of a single meal, rather than the long-term effects. Too few studies evaluated obesity or metabolic risk factors to draw meaningful conclusions on the effects of labelling on health outcomes.

The study merged findings from 60 interventional studies to evaluate the differences in consumer and industry responses in eleven countries across four continents.

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