Are nutrition labels too damn confusing?

Marketers of packaged foods fret about the ghastly disclosures they must make on product labels—all that salt, all those trans fats, etc. A new study, summarized on the HealthScout Web site from the report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests the marketers needn’t worry so much. It’s not that people ignore the labels. But they often fail to understand the significance of what they’re reading. The research project used 200 people as label-comprehension guinea pigs. “Most participants said they used food labels and found them easy to understand,” but tests of their comprehension showed otherwise. One example: Just 32 percent could figure out the amount of carbohydrates in a 20-ounce bottle of soda that had 2.5 servings. The HealthScout article quotes one expert in the field as noting that a combination of reading skills and math skills is needed for interpreting label data, and each of those abilities “is in short supply.” AdFreak infers from all this that the nation’s obesity epidemic is (partly) a side effect of its literacy and numeracy deficit. If current efforts at educational reform are successful, could a tapering of the American waistline be an unexpected bonus? [Photo by Flickr’s powerbooktrance.]

—Posted by Mark Dolliver