While purchasing any pre-packaged food, the importance is given to taste, followed by quality and lastly the label; where in the best before date is looked upon predominantly. Being able to read food labels accurately helps consumers identify their food requirements, decipher its outcome on their health and hence exercise control over their eating habits. For food labelling to be successful as a public health measure, it has, most importantly, to be user friendly for consumers to be able to read and understand it. In this video, Dr. Subba Rao emphasizes on the importance of nutrition education as a pre-requisite.
Consumption of processed foods is on the rise. Consumption of pre-packaged processed foods is also on the rise. Prevalence of overweight, obesity and resultant non-communicable diseases are on the rise. Food labels can be powerful tools to discourage consumption of unhealthy packed foods. Education about food labels can influence their purchasing habits and prompt purchase of healthy foods. Label in packaged foods shall be in such a manner that will not become separate from the container. Contents on the label shall be clear and legible. Every package of food should carry the name of food including trade name. List of ingredients should have names of ingredients used in descending order, complete nutritional information per 100gm, information on energy value, protein, carbohydrates and fat and numerical information on vitamins and minerals. International numerical identification number of colours flavours used. The name and complete address of the manufacturer and the manufacturing unit/packer, complete address of the importer in India in case of packaged food imported into India, country of origin of the imported food, net content and drained weight.
Information on energy value should be expressed in Kcal per 100gm or per loo ml or per serving information on amounts of carbohydrate (specify quantity of sugar), protein and fat in the food should be expressed in gm. The amount of any other nutrient for which a nutrition or health claim is made. If the claim is on the type of fatty acids or the amount of cholesterol, the amount of SA, MUFA or PUFA and Cholesterol should be declared and also trans-fat. Numerical information on vitamins and minerals should be expressed in metric units per 100gm or 100 ml.
Various studies on nutrition literacy relayed that EU and US consumers found nutrition labelling confusing, especially certain technical and numerical information. US consumers had difficulty in understanding the role that nutrients played in their diet, and the relationship between sugar and CHO as well as the terms “cholesterol” and “fatty acids.” Not all consumers read labels. Spanish study indicated that only obese and overweight read food labels. Consumers look for nutrition labels when shopping in all six countries surveyed. Over 44% of HHs never or rarely checks ingredients, while 51% always check ‘best before date’. More than 66% of school going adolescents find food labels too complex to understand.
The reasons for non-use of labels lack of time presentation style of information lack of understanding of terms understanding of role of nutrients in health and concerns about accuracy of information. Food labelling alone is likely to offer limited success a public health communication method but it can make a small but important contribution towards making informed food choices.