Improving nutrition labels is key to making informed health choices, according to a new research paper by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) entitled Nutrition labelling to prevent obesity: Reviewing the evidence from Europe.

According to the paper, clear and concise information on nutritional labels empowers people to make healthier food choices based on the information given, and will have a positive effect on the issue of obesity. Model studies on the European population show that comprehensive nutrition labels could decrease obesity rate by 2.5%.

The paper points out that a product’s price, taste and brand name are peoples’ top considerations when choosing food products, rather than the nutritional information provided by the nutrition label as the current format of nutrition labels is hard to understand.

As such, research has been conducted to look into ways to improve nutrition labels so they are consumer-friendly. The EUFIC suggests that “reinforcing consumers’ minds on health using health claims and logos” may motivate them to take nutrition labels into consideration when making their purchasing decisions.

Additional research has shown that eye tracking technology is now being used to enhance people’s understanding of how to read labels. According to an international team of scientists from the USA, Denmark and Switzerland, there are numerous barriers that affect consumers’ understanding of the nutritional information on labels, such as “label location, size, colour, and format”.

“Thus, modifying both the location of the label itself and the locations of nutrients on the label could lead to consumers spending more time viewing the most health-relevant nutrients,” the scientists say.
Reducing the visual “clutter” surrounding a nutrition label and cutting the number of total features on the food packaging can also help increase consumer attention to the nutrition label.

According to the paper, simple packaging design features can enhance consumers’ ability to track and understand nutrition labels effectively:

  • Position labels centrally
  • Position the nutrients according to health relevance
  • Reduce visual clutter around the labels
  • Increase the visual salience of the labels 
  • Increase the surface size of the labels
  • Simplify the health messages
For the full report, Nutrition labelling to prevent obesity: Reviewing the evidence from Europe is available for download here.