Adult consumers understanding and use of information on food labels: a study among consumers living in the Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp regions, South Africa
De Beer, Hanli
Jacobs, Sunelle Agnes
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Objective: To identify the information that adult consumers use on food labels, the difficulties they experience when using food labels and their reasons for not always using food labels. The relationship between their understanding of the information on the food label and their ability to make informed food choices was also investigated by means of their being required to perform labelling tasks. Design: A cross-sectional and descriptive research approach was followed. Data were collected by means of the administration of questionnaires. Setting: Selected supermarkets in Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp in the North West Province, South Africa. Subjects: Questionnaires were administered to 174 consumers of African descent and Caucasians, ≥18 years of age, who were involved in purchasing household food products. Results: The information that is mostly used on food labels includes the expiry date, the list of ingredients and nutritional information, such as fat and cholesterol content. The difficulties associated with food labels were indicated mainly as being the font size of the print, whereas the reasons for not reading food labels were related to product attributes (‘taste and price are more important than is the nutritional content of the food product’), demographic characteristics (‘lack of education and nutritional knowledge’) and situational factors (‘experiencing time constraints’). Conclusions: Results from the present study indicated that the expiry date was the most important information on a food label used by consumers. Scores from the labelling tasks showed that the respondents did not always understand how to use the information on food labels in order to make informed food choices. Barriers to consumer understanding and the use of food labels are highlighted. Improvements on current food labels in South Africa are suggested. Guidelines for consumer education regarding the use of food labels are also rovided.