Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn't work

December 8, 2017 by Lauren Baggett, University of Georgia
Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn’t work
Nutrition labels don't keep people from eating too much sodium, according to a UGA study. Credit: University of Georgia

Potato chips, frozen pizza, a fast food hamburger-these foods are popular in the American diet and saturated with sodium. Though eating too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, 90 percent of Americans eat more than the recommended amount of sodium per day.

The need to reduce sodium consumption is clear, but new research from the University of Georgia has determined that one popular approach-nutrition labeling-doesn't work.

"Currently we don't know which interventions are most effective to reduce in the U.S. population, and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act is the only policy in the U.S. focusing on informing consumers about on most packaged foods," said Donglan "Stacy" Zhang, assistant professor of health policy and management at UGA's College of Public Health and lead author on the study.

Nutrition labels are designed to help consumers make the best choices for their health, which is why calories, fats and other major nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals are prominently featured.

In a recently published paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Zhang and her co-authors examined the link between regularly reading and consumption of high-sodium foods.

Using two consumer behavior datasets from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers compared how frequently participants used nutrition labels and their daily sodium intake.

They found a small effect. Frequent nutrition label users consumed 92 milligrams less sodium per day than infrequent nutrition label users, but label readers were still eating around 3,300 milligrams of sodium, well over the Food and Drug Administration's recommended upper limit of 2,300 milligrams per day.

"That's a very small reduction," said Zhang. "Without health promotion, without any other additional education intervention, nutrition labeling has little impact on sodium consumption."

Zhang points to the need for better label design. The current label can present challenges to some consumers with limited education or non-English speakers. Visual or color-coded designs, like the traffic light model used on food packaging in the U.K., can overcome low literacy.

"We need more research in this area, how to better design the and how to best get this information to consumers to guide their decision-making," she said.

Zhang also found that the effect varied widely across age, gender and socioeconomic groups. Specifically, low income consumers were less likely to use nutrition labels.

"We suspect that low-income people are more concerned about other variables such as food prices or convenience," she said. "Those other competing variables may be more important to them than values in their food products."

Interventions that increase nutritious food choices for low-income consumers, she says, may be a more successful way to reduce sodium intake in these groups.

Explore further: Smartphone app study finds label use lead to healthier food choices

More information: Donglan Zhang et al. Nutrition Label Use and Sodium Intake in the U.S., American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.06.007

Related Stories

Smartphone app study finds label use lead to healthier food choices

December 4, 2017
Research using a smartphone app has found people buy healthier foods if they use food labels.

Reducing salt in restaurant food—some progress made but more needed

October 19, 2017
Restaurants are reducing sodium in some newer items on their menus, but when it comes to existing fare and use of sodium overall there has been little change, according to research led by the University of Michigan.

Deciphering label claims on food products

April 26, 2016
Label claims on food products can provide a wealth of information about the foods we eat but can sometimes be daunting to understand.

Twenty-five food categories explain 70 percent of salt intake

April 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—For U.S. persons, 70 percent of dietary sodium comes from 25 food categories, with bread the top contributor, according to research published in the March 31 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and ...

Science shapes new century of sandwich recommendations for children

October 23, 2017
Although sandwiches first appeared in American cookbooks in 1916, the role they play in the U.S. diet has just been illuminated, ironically, at the centennial celebration for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - the world's ...

Proposed label would tell how much added sugar to eat

July 24, 2015
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed that nutrition facts labels include the percentage of a person's recommended daily intake of added sugars in a food item—the "percent daily value."

Recommended for you

Father's nicotine use can cause cognitive problems in children and grandchildren

October 16, 2018
A father's exposure to nicotine may cause cognitive deficits in his children and even grandchildren, according to a study in mice publishing on October 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Pradeep Bhide of Florida ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

Many supplements contain unapproved, dangerous ingredients: study

October 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—U.S. health officials have issued more than 700 warnings during the last decade about the sale of dietary supplements that contain unapproved and potentially dangerous drug ingredients, new research reveals.

Age at which women experience their first period is linked to their sons' age at puberty

October 12, 2018
The age at which young women experience their first menstrual bleeding is linked to the age at which their sons start puberty, according to the largest study to investigate this association in both sons and daughters.

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

First ever meta-analysis on Indian lead exposure reveals link to devastating intellectual disability in children

October 12, 2018
New Macquarie University research has revealed the devastating disease burden associated with elevated blood lead levels in India. The results of the first ever meta-analysis of Indian blood lead levels found the burden of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.