Adult consumers' understanding and use of information on food labels : a study among consumers living in the Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp region
Jacobs, Sunelle Agnes
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A need exists to assist South Africans to make better informed food choices. The food label has the potential to assist consumers during food purchasing; however, consumers should be able to understand and use the information provided on food labels. Objective: To investigate adult consumers' understanding regarding the information on food labels and to determine whether they use the information on food labels in making food choices. Design: A cross-sectional and descriptive research approach was followed and data were collected by means of questionnaires. Combined stratified and judgemental sampling methods recruited 174 respondents involved in the purchasing of household food products. Setting: Selected supermarkets in Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp in the North West Province, South Africa, were targeted. Subjects: Consumers of African descent and Caucasian consumers, 18 years or older, who are involved in the purchasing of household food products. Results: Information mostly used on food labels includes the expiry date, ingredient list and nutritional information, such as fat and cholesterol content. Consistently, greater use of "low in fat" and "low in cholesterol" nutrient content claims were cited. Difficulties associated with food labels were mainly indicated as the font size of the print, whereas reasons for not reading food labels were related to product attributes, demographic characteristics and situational factors. Conclusions: Findings indicate that the food choices of the majority of respondents who read food labels are influenced by the information on the food label, although respondents' understanding of the information revealed an inability to apply food label information to make food choices. Reasons for not reading food labels included opinions like the "taste and price are more important than the nutritional content of the food product", "experiencing time constraints", and "lack of education and nutritional knowledge". This study highlighted barriers in consumers' understanding and use of information on food labels. Improvements to the current food labels in South Africa are suggested, as well as guidelines for consumer education regarding the use of food labels.
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