x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Food labels 'usually given the miss by shoppers'

A survey finds that only 15 per cent of consumers check the nutritional content of the food they are buying.

DUBAI // Only a small number of consumers check the nutritional content of the food they are putting into their shopping basket, according to a survey.

A study of 1,200 Al Ain shoppers found that just 15 per cent examine the food labels on pre-packaged products.

"There's a lot of concern about obesity now, so I wanted to see whether people actually read the labels in supermarkets," said the report's author Sidiga Washi, the professor of nutrition at UAE University, whose paper was published in the International Journal of Marketing Studies.

"With the increased use of packaged food, people have to know what they're eating. They need at least a basic knowledge on how to interpret the information on the label. If people know how to read the labels, they will eat better."

Hala Abu Taha, a nutritionist at the healthy-eating company Right-Bite, said she was surprised that even 15 per cent of people looked at nutritional information.

"It's more than we expected," she said.

"If you go back five years ago, almost no one paid attention to this information. Thanks to a campaign of awareness against obesity, people are now checking.

"I'm happy that we at least get 15 per cent of people looking."

She said there were also many misleading claims from food companies that could fool the unwary.

"If there's a chocolate with a lot of calcium, the marketing people write 'good for bones'. Sure it's good for bones, but there's too much saturated fat and too much cholesterol.

"If people knew how to read the nutrition label they would not be misled by these health claims."

The study, published in February, found that 89.5 per cent of people read portions of the food packaging. Although the majority of consumers - 85.6 per cent - just check for the expiry date.

The majority of respondents to the survey had a university level of education, but, despite that, they often did not understand how to read food labels.

Of those with a tertiary education, just 21 per cent had a "high level" of awareness of how to read a food label - meaning they understood nutritional information and health warnings, as well as other categories.

Dr Washi said awareness should be taught in schools.

"If children get into the habit of reading labels when they are very young, they will be accustomed to doing that when they get older," she said.

mcroucher@thenational.ae