A survey of consumer attitude towards nutrition and health statements on food labels in South Australia
Background: For many decades, Australia has required a Nutrient Information Panel to be included on food packaging, usually on the back of products. Recently, two regulated, voluntary systems were introduced for use on food packaging in Australia: the Health Star Rating system and nutrient content and health claims. Nonetheless, the scope and potential for these new initiatives to achieve their purpose is partly depdendant on their perception by consumers. This report describes the results of a population based survey of South Australian adults about how various elements of food labels are used to inform their purchase decisions.
Methods: A survey was conducted using a random stratified sampling technique in people aged 15 years and older in the Australian state of South Australia. All surveys were administered face-to-face to 3005 people between September 2015 and December 2015. Data was weighted by the inverse of the individual’s probability of selection, as well as the response rate in metropolitan and country regions and then reweighted to benchmarks from the June 2014 Estimated Resident Population calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Results: The response rate for the survey was 57.3%. Most respondents to the survey rated their own dietary intake as ‘healthy’ (61.5%) or ‘extremely healthy’ (9.1%). Aside from price, country of origin was nominated as the most important information on the food label of a food bought for the first time (by 35.0%), followed by the ingredient list (21.6%) and claims about nutrition (20.9%). The response to this question was markedly different by age group, with almost half (48.3%) of those aged 55 years or over considering that country of origin was the most important information to look for. For the youngest age group (15-34 yrs), 28.4% considered the ingredient list was the most important information, 26.5% considered claims about nutrition to be most important, and 22.2% considered country of origin to be the most important information on the food label. The Nutrition Information Panel was used to guide the purchase decision for a new breakfast cereal by more than half of respondents (50.8%), while a statement on the front of the pack about how the food effects health was used to guide the purchase decision of only 8.9%. While only 22.1% disagreed (16.4% disagreed somewhat, 5.7% disagreed completely) with the statement that ‘the Nutrient Information Panel on food packaging is a trustworthy source of information,’ almost double the amount of subjects at 44.0% disagreed (36.1% disagreed somewhat, 17.9% disagreed completely) that ‘statements about health on food packaging are a trustworthy source of information.’
Conclusion: For South Australian adults, statements about health benefits of food on food packaging are viewed with much greater suspicion than the nutrient information panel. Attitudes towards food packaging varied more by age group than by sex of the respondent. For an unfamiliar food, country of origin is considered the most important information on food packaging by more than a third of adults.
Keywords: Food packaging, Nutrition label, Front of Pack, Health Star, South Australia
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Copyright (c) 2016 Malcolm D. Riley