food label, and harmonization of the serving sizes on the Nutrition Facts box and other dietary recommendations such as the Food Guide Pyramid. Third, the committee encourages the regulatory agencies to assess the potential impact of changing the Nutrition Facts box on the response of food manufacturers with respect to the composition of products and the development of new products, including the use of biotechnology. Finally, the committee encourages that advance planning for nutrition labeling is put into place by the regulatory agencies to ensure that the process from proposals to final rules is timely.

Research on the Use of Nutrition Labeling to Inform Consumer Decisions

The Nutrition Facts box has been in the marketplace for nearly a decade, and it is likely that the way in which consumers use the information it provides has changed over time. The committee found a paucity of current research on all aspects of consumer use and understanding of the Nutrition Facts box. In the United States, research primarily was conducted around the times of regulatory change in the early 1970s and in the early 1990s.

Data from more recent studies (Kreuter et al., 1997; Neuhouser et al., 1999; Perez-Escamilla and Haldeman, 2002) suggest that the Nutrition Facts box has had a positive effect on the quality of the diets of some population groups, but information has been limited since the beginning of nutrition labeling in the 1970s. Further, the committee has been unable to identify studies that provide a comprehensive view of current usage patterns. One recent web-based, nationally representative sample survey of primary household shoppers 18 years of age and older found that when consumers use the current Nutrition Facts box to evaluate the nutritional quality of a product, they tend to rely on a variety of components, such as calories, total fat, sodium, and saturated fat. However this study was designed for the specific purpose of assessing the impact of trans fat label information on consumer food choices (Cogent Research, 2003). Some studies suggest that it is important to proceed cautiously in making modifications to nutrition labeling (IOM, 2002b) since consumers may focus on new information when making purchasing decisions and ignore basic information that may be equally important. This behavior was confirmed in the recent trans fat label information study (Cogent Research, 2003). It would seem relevant to understand how different segments of the population are using nutrition labels and, in particular, the extent to which the percent

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