Effective nutrition labels are part of a supportive environment that encourages healthier food choices. The present study examined the use, understanding and preferences regarding nutrition labels among ethnically diverse shoppers in New Zealand.
A survey was carried out at twenty-five supermarkets in Auckland, New Zealand, between February and April 2007. Recruitment was stratified by ethnicity. Questions assessed nutrition label use, understanding of the mandatory Nutrition Information Panel (NIP), and preference for and understanding of four nutrition label formats: multiple traffic light (MTL), simple traffic light (STL), NIP and percentage of daily intake (%DI).
In total 1525 shoppers completed the survey: 401 Maori, 347 Pacific, 372 Asian and 395 New Zealand European and Other ethnicities (ten did not state ethnicity).
Reported use of nutrition labels (always, regularly, sometimes) ranged from 66 % to 87 % by ethnicity. There was little difference in ability to obtain information from the NIP according to ethnicity or income. However, there were marked ethnic differences in ability to use the NIP to determine if a food was healthy, with lesser differences by income. Of the four label formats tested, STL and MTL labels were best understood across all ethnic and income groups, and MTL labels were most frequently preferred.
There are clear ethnic and income disparities in ability to use the current mandatory food labels in New Zealand (NIP) to determine if foods are healthy. Conversely, MTL and STL label formats demonstrated high levels of understanding and acceptance across ethnic and income groups.
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