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Nayga paper (03-65)

Nutritional Labels, Health Claims, and Consumers' Diets *

Rodolfo M. Nayga, Jr.
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX ? 77843-2124 USA


Food and Agricultural Marketing Policy Section Food Labeling Conference March 20-21, 2003 Washington, D.C.
Nutritional Labels, Health Claims, and Consumers' Diets *

Executive Summary   ??????????? During the last two decades, product labeling has become a popular policy tool, particularly with respect to the provision of nutrition and health information. ? It culminated in the passage of the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in 1990. ? The NLEA instituted sweeping changes to replace the voluntary system of labeling established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1973. ? It requires mandatory nutrition labeling for almost all packaged food and strict regulation of nutrient content and health claims. ? In addition, it also requires a new format for the nutrition information panel called "Nutrition Facts", standardization of serving sizes, and strict regulation of use of descriptors and explicit health messages. ? The FDA estimated that the NLEA would cost the food industry $1.4 billion to $2.3 billion and the government $163 million over the next 20 years. ? These estimates, however, are contingent upon the presumption that consumers' diets are improved by their use of food labels.

  ??????????? This paper evaluated the impact of nutritional labels and health claims on consumers' diets. The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) developed by the USDA is used as a measure of diet quality in evaluating the effectiveness of label use. The responses to food label use are expected to vary across individuals and across the types of information on the label. Thus, five types of nutritional label information- nutritional panel, serving size, nutrient content claim, the list of ingredients, and health claims- are examined to determine which type of label information provides the most improvement, if any, in diet quality. ? Results indicate that nutritional labels provide measurable benefits by improving diet quality of Americans by as much as 4-6 points on a 100 point Healthy Eating Index scale. ? Among nutritional panels, serving sizes, nutrient content claims, list of ingredients, and health claims, the use of health claims on food labels provides the highest level of improvement in diet quality.
Nutritional Labels, Health Claims, and Consumers' Diets


Many Americans are not meeting dietary recommendations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that only about 12 percent of Americans are eating healthfully. ? So even though more Americans are now aware of the importance of good nutrition, most diets still fall short of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Frazao 1995). ? Through new scientific discoveries about linkages between diet and health, risks associated with nutritional imbalances in the composition of diet have been reported to be the most significant. For example, four of the top ten causes of death in the United States - heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabe





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