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Consumers Don’t Understand What Labels Are Telling Them

Canadians are reading food labels but do not always understand what they are telling them, a recent report by the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition (CCFN) says.

A key finding of the council’s report 2009 Tracking Nutrition Trends (TNT): ‘A 20-year History’ is that food product labels continue to be Canadians’ most credible and highly used source of information on food and nutrition. The report also reveals that while food labels are listed as a highly credible source, various statistics suggest that Canadians still don’t fully understand the information that is reported on them, the council says in a release.

“Based on the findings of this 20-year report, CCFN is calling on government, health associations, the food industry and all health-related sectors to step up education of food nutrition labelling to help all Canadians have a better understanding of what their food contains,” says Francy Pillo-Blocka, the CCFN’s president and CEO.

CCFN has been tracking various trends of sources of nutrition information for the past 20 years and product labels have consistently been rated as the No. 1 source. In 2008, 68 per cent of Canadians reported product labels as their prime source of nutrition information, followed by the Internet at 51 per cent and magazines, newspapers and books at 46 per cent.

“Canadian food labels were developed with a large number of stakeholders to ensure information is presented fully and clearly to consumers,” says Pillo-Blocka. “The food labels have been well received by Canadians and now the next step is to help us better understand all of the valuable information on the label.”

The report shows that Canadians tend to focus on specific information when looking at food product labels. In 2008, ingredients (80 per cent), best before date (74 per cent) and nutrition facts tables (71 per cent) were the information that consumers consulted the most.

While the TNT report shows that consumers trust and actively use the information to stay healthy, current statistics on Canadians’ obesity and other health-related issues have reached epidemic proportion. This suggests that consumers still need to have a better understanding of how to use the information on food product labels for improved health, the council says.

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