WASHINGTON, May 6, 2016 - Half of all adults read the nutrition facts label “always” or “most of the time,” according to the latest Health and Diet Survey from the Food and Drug Administration.

When asked whether they looked at the label when deciding whether to buy a food product, the specific breakdown was: Always (16 percent); most of the time (34 percent); sometimes (27 percent); rarely (12 percent), and never (10 percent).

In the 11th such survey conducted since 1982 – and the first to sample cell phone users – FDA also found that nearly 90 percent of adults thought they ate more salt than they should, while three out of four said that products in supermarkets contained “more or the same amount of salt as five years ago.”

“The survey helps the FDA make informed regulatory, educational, and other decisions with a better understanding of consumer knowledge, attitudes, and practices about current and emerging nutrition and labeling issues,” FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said. “It also identifies any changes in consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices. FDA researchers analyze the data in this and previous surveys, and the FDA encourages other researchers to use the data as well.”

To combat obesity and reduce sodium consumption, FDA is preparing to finalize changes to the nutrition facts panel for food and beverages and to propose draft guidance to food manufacturers for reducing the sodium content of their products. 

FDA-proposed changes to nutrition labels would require listing of added sugar content, update serving sizes, and alter daily values for nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. FDA proposed to require labels disclose the content of added sugars as a percentage of a recommended daily limit. The label has traditionally only required listing total sugar content.

The sodium targets are meant to “begin a dialogue” with industry about the best ways to “remove excess sodium in the U.S. food supply,” Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told a conference of food lawyers this week.

Reacting to the survey, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said it continues to believe that the only information required for labels should about health or nutrition. “That way, consumers continue to know that the mandatory information on the label is there because it provides required health or safety information.”

The survey did not address genetically modified foods, which FDA has said are just as safe as non-GMO foods.

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Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, called the figures showing how many consumers use the label information “impressive” and said it “underscores the success of the Nutrition Facts label in empowering consumers to make better choices. I think it also underscores the importance of designing the Nutrition Facts label to maximize consumers’ access to straightforward, actionable information.”


People who don’t use the nutrition facts label offered a variety of reasons for not doing so:

  • 18 percent said they didn’t think food labels are important;
  • 57 percent said they buy what their family likes;
  • 49 percent said they’re satisfied with their diet or health;
  • 8 percent said they get product information from sources other than the nutrition facts label;
  • 18 percent said they don’t think food labels are important.

Respondents could choose more than one answer.

In another major result, 90 percent of the adults said they had heard about trans fat (or trans fatty acid) in foods. Sixty-six percent of these adults knew that trans fat raises the risk of heart disease. Yet, a quarter of adults could not tell whether trans fat raises or lowers the risk of heart disease.

In addition, 72 percent of adults answered affirmatively when asked whether they had “heard anything about cancer being related to things people eat or drink.” Twenty-six percent said they had not.

(Philip Brasher contributed to this report)


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