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Study: New ‘Added Sugar’ Column May Confuse Shoppers

Dorathy Gass

A new study suggests that consumers might struggle to understand the proposed ‘added sugars’ column that some American health officials are thinking about adding to nutrition labels, in order to encourage people to cut back on empty calories and additional sugars.

The study published by Reuters, revealed that when consumers were shown nutritional labels with the new ‘added sugars’ column; many shoppers miscalculated sugar intake. However, when the same consumers viewed nutrition labels without the ‘added sugars’ panel (which looks so much more like the current labels on grocery items); individuals were able to accurately identify the sugar amount in the product.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is signaling for this change on nutrition labels to include an indent that further explains the added sugar in food items to help shoppers understand how much foods are natural sweetened, versus how much sugar is added to certain packaged products. New panels would also ensure total serving numbers and caloric intake were at the forefront of these information labels.

As part of the research, study co-author Kris Sollid, director of communication for nutrients at Washington D.C.’s International Food Council and his team interviewed just over 25 adults in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. Shoppers in these areas reviewed and interpreted the new nutrition labels with the ‘added sugar’ column in various ways, which included those who thought the new panel, simply meant more sugar was in the product, in addition to sugars that were visible on the previous line. Other interpretations included those who understood the root meaning of ‘added sugars’, and consumers who felt those products with ‘added sugars’ were less desirable.

Next, the research team surveyed over 1,000 men and women on how they reviewed current nutrition labels to see if they could interpret the new ‘added sugars’ column effectively for future use. Individuals who reviewed the nutrition panel without the ‘added sugars’ column were able to correctly identify just how much sugar was in a food item, approximately 92 % of the time. When consumers reviewed the panel with the ‘added sugars’ column, there were able to correctly identify total sugars only 55% of the time.

However, a better design can make all the difference notes Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Sports Performance. Heller did not take part in the study, but adds that the nutrition information on food packaging can be confusing to mostly everyone, and a more effective design aimed specifically to help shoppers understand what the ‘added sugar’ line means, just might be the solution.

Still, this might not be a real issue for a while, as the timing of these changes to nutrition labels is still not clear. The FDA has indicated that planning is underway on issuing a proposed rule to gather comments and additional information on the nutritional labels; however that rule is being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget right now.

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