Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft

How closely do we read nutrition facts? According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, not close enough. The study suggests our eyes are smaller than our stomachs (or perhaps just as impatient): Most people don’t read whole nutrition labels, even if they think they do. The issue may be the label’s positioning on a package.

In the study, shoppers looked at grocery items on a computer monitor that included a nutrition label, ingredient list, and price. Participants reported which information they looked at, and researchers compared their responses to feedback from an eye-tracking tool. About a third of participants said they "almost always" look at calorie content and total fat, about a quarter said they checked out sugar and serving size, and a fifth said they peeked at trans fat. But results from the eye-tracker proved most shoppers were full of bologna. Only nine percent looked at calorie content for most products, and a mere one percent looked at all the nutritional information listed above.

Study author Dan Graham suggested that the problem’s in the positioning: “A more novel, and therefore potentially surprising, finding was that there seemed to be important effects of location— both of the label itself and of the nutrients on the label.” People were most likely to read the nutrition label when it took front-and-center stage, and tended to read facts closer to the top of the label. A solution to the positioning dilemma might be in sight: Just last week, the Institute of Medicine recommended a new labeling system, with information on the front of packages about calories, serving size, fat, sodium, and sugar. The label won’t mention vitamins, minerals, fiber, or protein, so flip the product around to find all the nutritional information!

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