Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Regulating Front-of-Package Nutrition Information Disclosures: A Test of Industry Self-Regulation vs. Other Popular Options

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Regulating Front-of-Package Nutrition Information Disclosures: A Test of Industry Self-Regulation vs. Other Popular Options

Article excerpt

In recent years, there has been considerable attention surrounding the topic of front-of-package (FOP) nutrition information disclosures. FOP nutrition disclosures are typically used to provide nutrient information that may help consumers more easily determine if a particular food is a healthy option. The current research compares four different types of FOP formats to assess consumer response. Results from two studies suggest that all FOP disclosure formats tested produce significantly more positive consumer responses than packages without any FOP nutrition information at all. Study 1 finds that levels of consumer nutrition knowledge moderate the FOP-ease of use relationship, while Study 2 reveals that an educational prime also moderates this same relationship. Additional exploratory thought analysis indicates that packages with FOP disclosures generally produce more nutrition-related thoughts than packages without any FOP nutrition information. Our results offer implications for both industry and government regulation, and generate several fruitful areas for future research.

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The provision of nutrition information is one of the basic functions of food packaging and has been an issue of great interest to the academic community, government, food manufacturers, and food retailers for decades. (1) Some nutrition information on food packages has been regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the 1990s (e.g., Nutrition Facts Panel, NFP) while other information is self-regulated by grocery manufacturers (e.g., nutrition information on the front of packages). Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion, debate, and research in particular around the topic of front-of-package (FOP) nutrition information disclosures (Health and Human Services 2011). Whether regulated by the government or self-regulated by the industry, the primary goal of FOP nutrition information disclosure is to help consumers more easily determine if a particular food item is a healthy choice and to facilitate food comparisons within and across categories. Hence, the provision of FOP nutrition information has the potential to increase consumer awareness, understanding, and usage of nutrition information, assisting consumers in making better food choices for themselves and their families. These better decisions can, in turn, help prevent or reduce diet-related illnesses and diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and strokes). As such, FOP nutrition information disclosures have considerable potential for protecting and guiding consumers in their decision-making processes.

There is debate as to whether nutrition information on the front of food packages should be mandated and regulated by the government, or whether the disclosure of this information should be self-regulated by the industry. To better understand this issue, it is important to distinguish between health claims made by the manufacturer (e.g., heart healthy or reduced calories) and nutrition disclosures which communicate objective levels of specific nutrients contained in foods. Food and supplement health claims have been regulated by the FDA for decades, and back-of-package nutrition disclosures (i.e., NFP) have been required since the early 1990s. (2) (For a discussion on disclosures, disclaimers, and claims, see Kozup et al. 2012.) Some advocates feel that FOP nutrition information disclosures should also be both standardized and mandatory to avoid potential misperceptions or confusion by consumers (Lytton 2010).

While there is general agreement that FOP nutrition information can be beneficial from a consumer health perspective, there is conflicting research about the ideal method of presenting FOP nutrition information and which approach may be most useful to consumers. In an extensive Institute of Medicine report (supported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the US Department of Agriculture), an expert committee concluded that no single FOP nutrition information system is superior overall to all others and that each system has strengths and weaknesses (IOM 2010). …

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