Life Balance Plus tortillas are labeled as a healthy option; however, the first ingredient is enriched bleached wheat flour, and the fourth ingredient is hydrogenated oil.
Life Balance Plus tortillas are labeled as a healthy option; however, the first ingredient is enriched bleached wheat flour, and the fourth ingredient is hydrogenated oil.

Nutrition Labels

As obesity has become an epidemic in America, more and more families rely on food labels to guide them in making healthier choices. Sometimes these labels can be confusing, however. For instance a consumer may find bread labeled “wheat” with unbleached wheat flour as the first ingredient. Another consumer interested in switching from flour tortillas to a healthier option may be surprised to find certain ingredients (left). The effectiveness of Traffic Light and Organic labeling techniques will be examined below. We will also evaluate what labeling approaches do, in fact, aid consumers in healthier food choices.

Important Definitions

                        • National Organic Program (NOP): the federal regulatory framework governing organic food. It was made law in October 2002. The NOP covers fresh and processed agricultural food products, including crops and livestock. It does not cover non-food products that may be sold as organic, including natural fibers (eg: organic cotton), and health and beauty products (eg: organic shampoo).
                        • 100% Organic: single ingredient such as a fruit, vegetable, meat, milk and cheese - excludes water and salt. Use of organic seal is optional.
                        • Organic: multiple ingredient foods which are 95 to 100% organic. Use of organic seal is optional.
                        • Made with Organic Ingredients: 70% of the ingredients are organic. Can appear on the front of package, naming the specific ingredients.
                        • Contains Organic Ingredients: contains less than 70% organic ingredients.
                        • The Smart Choices Program: a front-of-pack nutrition labeling program, developed because of the need for program that U.S. food manufacturers and retailers could voluntarily adopt to promote informed food choices and help consumers construct better diets.
                        • Traffic Light Nutrition Labeling System: provides nutritional information on food packaging that is presented with a green, amber or red symbol, for "eat freely", "eat in moderation", and "eat only occasionally".

Nutrition Headlines

Owen; Traffic Light Nutrition Labels Preferred by Consumers, Medical News Today

Traffic light nutrition labels use colors to rate foods on how healthy they are. One of the most common versions uses a panel with red, amber, or green dots to rate the food's salt, sugar, saturated fat, and total fat content separately. In the headline “Traffic Light Nutrition Labels are Preferred by Consumers,” it states that consumers are five times more likely to pick healthy food choices when using the traffic light labeling system as compared to the present numerical nutrition labels (Kelly, 2009). Another point of the article was that nutrition labels should be on the front of the food package. In the United States, a new program called the Smart Choices program uses this method of placing labels on the front of the package. The goal of this program is to guide consumers to smarter food choices in the grocery store, which will eventually lead to more balanced diets and to more beneficial foods, as food manufacturers recreate products to meet the nutrition criteria for carrying the Smart Choices icon (Lupton, 2010). Below is an example of the Traffic Light nutrition labeling system previously used in the UK and the Smart Choices program logo.

The traffic light nutrition labeling systems do appear to be beneficial as shown by the references. However, one study that was researched was not completely randomized. This study, done by nutritionists in the Netherlands, was designed to perform a quantitative and qualitative cross-sectional evaluation of the introduction of the Choices logo, a front-of-pack nutrition logo on products with a healthy product composition (Vyth, 2009). They evaluated the effectiveness of these labels by sending an online questionnaire to adult consumers four months after the introduction of the logo and one a year later as well. Although, an online survey is beneficial because it includes a large number of participants, it can be inaccurate because it is likely
that those who responded either felt strongly for or against the nutrition logos. This, however, does not discredit the effectiveness of the nutrition labels, it just was not proven very accurately in this particular study. There have been numerous studies done on this topic that have been done randomly and controlled that have shown the acceptance of Traffic Light nutrition labeling and the Smart Choices program by consumers.

The above headline, in my opinion, is a legitimate source and not just “noise." The authors of the original research study did perform a randomized study involving four different variations of traffic light nutrition labeling and seven hundred and ninety individuals. They found that consumers favored a consistent labeling format across all products. In addition, those who were shown the traffic light labels were five times more likely to identify healthier foods than those shown a single color version of the percentage daily intake label and three times more likely to do so than those shown a color-coded version of the daily intake label (Kelly, 2009). Therefore, I believe that a consistent labeling system would be the most beneficial for our country. The Traffic Light labeling system and the Smart Choices program are very simple and either could definitely be the future system of the United States.


Halverson: Better Food Choices Made When Nutritional Knowledge Improved - Medicine Today

The great debate over nutrition labels is fought on many fronts. This debate covers everything from where to put lables on the packing, how to list serving sizes, and what level of understanding to expect from consumers. All of these areas have been debated over and changed until we are left with the nutrition labels we see on our food today. But the question remains: Are the current nutrition labels effective effective?

The article “Better Food Choices Made When Nutritional Knowledge Improved” explores this question of food lable effectiveness in high school cafeterias across Pennsylvania. During this experiment, five of the six high school cafeterias were given food with the nutrition labels readily available to the student body consuming said food. The other school, the control school, was served food with the normally absent labels. At the onset of this experiment, students were asked to fill out a survey describing their satisfaction with the School Food Program and the foods served therein (McDonall 2006). Over the next six weeks, students were allowed to make their regular decisions over what entrees to choose at lunch times.

After the six-week experimental period, surveys were again distributed to the students, and they had another opportunity to rank their satisfaction with the school cafeterias. A considerable increase was shown in the schools that had the nutrition labels available, while the control school showed a decline in student satisfaction. Students tended to rank the appearance, food quality, and service quality higher than at the beginning of the experiment, but there was no change in how they ranked dining room ambiance, pricing, or menu variety (Probart 2005).

What the article did not mention was that nutrition labels were not only posted in the cafeteria line, but also in the a la carte shops and at the vending machines. Data was collected from all areas in each school to track what items were the most popular at the start of the experiment as well as the end.

Not mentioned in the article was the information collected about what items were most sold at the a la carte shops and vending machines. The research showed that water became the most sold beverage in many schools and baked or reduced fat potato chip sales increased (Hartstein 2008).

One major aspect of the research that was not included in the Medical News Today article, was the data collected from the dining staff before and after the experiment. Food directors and school principals were also requested to fill out a survey on the effectiveness of the current School Food Program (McDonall 2006). The biggest discrepancy in the surveys between those directly involved in the food program and the principals was that most principals believed certain aspects of the meal program were being carried out effectively when the food coordinators did not. There was also misunderstanding of policies and guidelines between the two offices which indicated a lack of communication.

Overall, the article “Better Food Choices Made When Nutritional Knowledge Improved” was definitely more ‘news’ than ‘noise.’ In my opinion, it had more news to give, if the time and space were available. This article also had a disclaimer at the end stating that this was only a six week experiment and the researchers had the thought that students might become desensitized to nutritional information after the experimental period. The authors of the article did what the researchers did in their conclusions of the experiment, and that was to be as fair with the data as possible. It resulted in a very effective way of dispersing this information and increasing awareness of the importance of knowing the nutritional value of what you’re eating.


Through our research and study behind each of these articles, a common theme was that the overall knowledge, and appropriate use, of nutrition labels became the major factor in consumers making healthier food choices. The type and positioning of the label did not matter as much as the consistent use of the nutrition labels on the products. Studies showed that consumers who had been educated on nutrition labels were more likely to make wiser food choices, except in the case of Temple's experiment, which concluded that the presence of a food label alone, regardless of prior education, prompted consumers to make healthier choices. In two of the three headlines that we critiqued, the media was accurately supported. However, much of the “noise” in the headlines was due to study design errors, not the misinterpretation of the media. We conclude that, while certain labels may point consumers in the right direction, it is always important to check the ingredient list. Understanding the components and the current dietary recommendations of the foods we consume may be the best place to focus.


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