Nutrition Labels and Your Attention

How much attention are you really paying to nutritional labels? According to new research, not as much as you might think.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, used an eye-tracking device to measure how much attention consumers pay to these labels. They recruited 203 study subjects to participate in a simulated grocery shopping exercise that displayed 64 different products on a computer screen. The screen displayed three elements for each product: a picture of the item, the Nutrition Facts, and the list of ingredients along with a description of the product, the price and quantity. These elements were displayed so that one-third of the participants each saw the Nutrition Facts label on the right, center or left. While the study subjects knew their eye movements would be tracked, they did not know the investigation focus was on nutrition information. The researchers asked the participants if they would consider buying the product.

The investigators found that consumers believed they were paying more attention to the labels than what the device actually measured. They also found that Nutrition Facts labels that are centrally located are viewed more frequently and longer than labels located peripherally.

The study authors say these findings suggest that consumers have a limited attention span for nutritional labels. Although most participants did look at the labels, they say, most of them did not view every component on any label. And, the add, these results were different from the survey responses describing typical grocery shopping and health behaviors that were submitted by the participants.