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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 11:55 GMT
Consumer confusion over food labels
Food on supermarket shelves
Customers find food labels confusing
Consumers are failing to grasp even the most basic principles of nutrition, according to a survey.

It suggests they are more likely to understand how to programme a video than work out the nutritional content of the food they are eating.

Many found information on packaging either baffling or too much to take in.

The "eat smart" survey is the largest study of consumer attitudes towards healthy eating ever commissioned by the retailer.

People need to be encouraged to have a positive relationship with food

Dr Pam Spurr, psychologist
It examines what progress has been made in achieving targets set out in the government White Paper: Saving Lives - Our Healthier Nation.

More than 75% of the 1,000 people who took part in the survey said they did not understand what RDA (recommended daily allowance) means - the term used to describe vitamin and mineral quotas.

They guessed at Royal Dramatic Art or Regional Development Agency instead.

People's ignorance on food nutrition comes despite the fact more people - a third of those asked - would rather eat what they like and not gain weight than learn a second language or improve their IQ.

Healthy nation

The British Nutrition Foundation believes more research is needed to understand what shoppers would find most helpful on food labels.

A spokeswoman said: "We know that there are strong links between diet and health.

"But the best (and easiest) way to achieve a healthy diet is to fill up on starchy staples (like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice) and fruit and vegetables, and then add some dairy (milk, yoghurt) and protein foods (like meat, fish, egg or beans)with just a few of the fatty and sugary foods.

"Following this advice doesn't necessitate reading the labels in detail.

"Of course, for some people, such as those with specific medical conditions, like those with nut allergies, reading the label is a real necessity, and so the information is needed on the label. "

Labelling: more research needed
Evidence of consumer confusion may alarm the government, which is trying to create a healthier nation and prevent 300,000 unnecessary deaths by 2010.

As well as reducing accidents and mental illness, the 96m programme also aims to cut rates of heart disease and cancer.

Psychologist Dr Pam Spurr, who consulted on the survey, said: "People need to be encouraged to have a positive relationship with food.

"Food is not the enemy, it is negative emotions and stress that can unbalance an individual's relationship with food."

The study also found:

  • 93% of shoppers agree that understanding the nutrition content of food labelling is difficult
  • 68% of people do not know the correct fat percentage of semi-skimmed milk
  • Men are less concerned about eating a healthier diet than women - 53% and 63% respectively
  • 70% recognise five portions of fruit and vegetables are the recommended daily amount.

  • See also:

    25 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
    Consumers 'misled' by some food labels
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