Americans are often advised to eat healthier, more nutritious foods in an effort to stifle the nationwide epidemic of diabetes and obesity. Researchers find that many fail to identify healthy foods in the grocery store aisle, though.
A research team from Attest, a consumer research platform, found that when multiple food options are presented, all of varying levels of health and nutrition, only 9% of people are able to correctly identify which was the healthiest. .
More worryingly, 13% identified the least nutritious food option as the healthiest, more than the amount they correctly identified as the healthiest.
Experts say many are misled by labels on the front of the package such as “whole grains” and “low calorie”, and don’t care or can’t properly read the nutrition label on the back of the package.
One study found that only about 9% of Americans can accurately identify which product was the healthiest based on the packaging
“The American population cannot very clearly identify healthy products … it tells us a lot about this gap between perception and reality,” Jeremy King, CEO of Attest who helped put the research together, told DailyMail.com.
The researchers collected data from 2,000 participants for the study. Each was shown a collection of cereal bars and asked to rank them from healthiest to least healthy.
The correct rankings were based on the Nutri A to E score used to rank certain food items in the UK.
King said many misidentified advertising slogans – which usually mean nothing – as indicators that a food was healthy.
Jeremy King (pictured), CEO of Attest, said that claims like “whole grains” or “naturally flavored” on the front of food packaging can mislead people as to which products are actually healthy for them.
These include phrases like “whole grains”, “naturally flavored” and “100 calories”. Other common culprits include “organic” or “fat free”.
While many figured foods that are branded this way are healthier, the bar for using them legally is extremely low and it’s more branded than anything else.
The failure of Americans to identify healthy products is likely playing a role in the nation’s budding epidemics of obesity and diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42% of Americans are obese, with over 70% of Americans considered obese.
The problem has reached a crisis mode and has also led to an increase in diabetes, heart disease and other related conditions in America.
The CDC also reports that about ten percent of Americans suffer from diabetes, a potentially devastating and debilitating condition.
King blames outdated food labeling regulations in the United States for the problem.
America has adopted its current food labeling practice, where nutrition facts can be found on a clear, black and white label, usually on the back or side of the package.
King says the American style of nutrition labeling is outdated and should be replaced with a system similar to the ‘Nutri-score’ system used in the UK
Although the label is informative, giving nearly exact amounts of what substances, vitamins and minerals are in the product and comparing it to the average American’s expected daily intake, it can be difficult to read and many may not even bother looking at it. .
Instead, most Americans, even those looking for healthful food, will simply examine the front of the package before putting it in the cart.
This is where terms like “whole grains” and “organic” can play a huge role.
“Most consumers aren’t nutritionists,” King said, adding that they make an “immediate decision” when deciding what’s healthy in the grocery store.
Compare the US system to that of the UK, where many products are labeled with a Nutri score from A to E, where A is the healthiest.
While the system is not perfect and leaves out many of the nuances involved in nutrition, it is a great indicator for a person who wants to make a quick and health-conscious choice in the grocery store.
Researchers say a bill introduced last August by United States Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, would establish this type of system in America and help add clarity to grocery shopping across the country.
King notes that this would also be popular among Americans, with 51% of survey respondents advocating labeling.
“There is already a demand for this change from consumers,” he said.