The Effects of the New Food Labels on Consumer Decision Making

Gary T. Ford, American University
[ to cite ]:
Gary T. Ford (1994) ,"The Effects of the New Food Labels on Consumer Decision Making", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 530.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 530


Gary T. Ford, American University

In December 1992, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new regulations governing food labels, which provide consumers with much more information about a food's nutritional value, standardize adjectival descriptors such as "light" or "low in sodium" and place strict limitations on health claims about a food and a specific disease, such as between calcium and osteoporosis. The new labels affect over 300,000 consumer products and represent the most sweeping changes ever made in the type of nutrition and health information that both must be, and cannot be, provided to consumers. In order to begin understanding the effects of the new labels, this special session included three empirical papers concerning the effects of the new food labels and the relationship between knowledge of diet/disease relationships and behavior.

Alan Levy, Chief of the Consumer Studies Branch at the Food and Drug Administration, presented a paper titled, "Antecedents of Dietary Consumption Behavior." The paper was based on three-day dietary intake of a nationally representative sample of 1,894 American consumers. A LISREL modelling approach was used to investigate the relationship between food intake and cognitive variables. Results indicate that awareness of diet disease relationships, beliefs that diets can affect one's health, and concern about specific dietary risk factors are the most important mediators of the effects of SES and health status on food intake.

Gary T. Ford, Manoj Hastak and Anusree Mitra, all of American University and Debra J. Ringold of the University of Baltimore, presented "Health Claims in the Presence of Consistent and Inconsistent Nutrient Information: A Laboratory Investigation." The objective of this study was to determine whether health claims concerning diet-disease relationships interact with or are independent of subsequent processing of detailed nutrition information. A two ("Does your heart good" health claim vs. no health claim) by two (nutrition information which is consistent with the claim vs. inconsistent) by two (absolute vs. adjectival nutritional format) factorial design was used. Key results indicate health claims and nutrition information have independent effects, and that respondents can detect when a health claim is partially contradicted by detailed information on the product label. Products that make health claims are rated significantly more "heart healthy" than those without the claim regardless of the nutrition information provided or the format used.

Sandra Burke of Georgetown University presented "The Case of the Implied Nutrient Claim: Can Context Influence the Meaning of the Ingredient Statement." The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate consumer reactions to presentation format and symbol usage in conjunction with ingredient statements. A three (starburst symbol vs. banner symbol vs. no symbol) by two (high vs. low knowledge of the importance of the ingredient for good nutrition) design was used. No statistically significant differences were found on the key dependent measures of overall brand evaluation and attribute importance.

Alan Andreasen of Georgetown University provided discussant remarks.