The international team of researchers behind the findings suggests that encouraging more people to read food labels could be a valuable tool in the fight against obesity.
Led by María Loureiro from the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the researchers found that reading labels on food products could be linked to the prevention of obesity, especially in women. According to the study – published in the journal Agricultural Economics – female consumers who consult food labels weigh on average 4 kilograms less than those who do not.
"First we analysed which was the profile of those who read the nutritional label when purchasing foods, and then we moved on to the relationship with their weight," said Loureiro.
"In general, the associated impact is higher amongst women than men," she explained, revealing that on average women who read the nutritional information have a body mass index of 1.49 points lower than those who do not, whereas this difference is just 0.12 points in men.
The data was taken from the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) performed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data from more than 25,640 people (10,810 men and 14,830 women) were collected and analyzed by the team to assess any interactions between obesity incidence and how people interacted with nutritional information on food labels.
According to Loureiro and her collegaues, 58% of men either habitually or always read the information on nutritional labels – whilst 74% of women regularly read such information.
The results of the study suggest that women who read nutritional information on foods have a BMI score 1.49 points lower those who never consider such information when doing their food shopping – this equates to a difference of around four kilograms in an woman of average height, the researchers said.
In addition, the researchers revealed that people who smoke pay much less attention to food labels.
According to Loureiro: "Their lifestyle involves less healthy habits and as a consequence, it could be the case that they are not so worried about the nutritional content of the food they eat, according to our results."
"Obesity is one of the most serious health problems," said Loureiro. "The number of overweight or obese adults has risen over the years.”
"We know that this information can be used as a mechanism to prevent obesity,” she added.
Source: Agricultural Economics
Volume 43, Issue 3, pages 333–342, doi, 10.1111/j.1574-0862.2012.00586.x
“The effects of nutritional labels on obesity”
Authors: Maria L. Loureiro, Steven T. Yen, Rodolfo M. Nayga