WHILE school lunches and other foods consumed at school play a significant role in the overall effort to combat childhood obesity, new research suggests that parents' understanding of nutritional information makes a difference, too, particularly among inner-city populations.
In a study from The Children's Hospital at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine's Montefiore Medical Center, researchers found that inner-city parents who read and understand food nutrition labels tend to make healthier choices for their families. A majority of parents (63%) said they read food labels when purchasing foods for the first time, and 42% said labels affect their purchasing decisions.
Parents who did not read nutrition labels cited the price of the product in question, the complexity of the label and size of the text and a simple lack of time as reasons for not reading the information.
"Since obesity rates are highest among inner-city children, we thought it was important to fully understand their parents' habits when it comes to reading and understanding nutrition labels," said Dr. Sandra Braganza, director of the hospital's residency program in social pediatrics. "The data show that understanding food labels could have a significant impact on childhood obesity rates, given that caregivers make the majority of food purchasing decisions for their households."
Presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Washington, D.C., the small-scale study found that parents are much more likely to answer questions about a food product correctly based on front-of-package labeling than based on the back-of-the-box nutrition facts label. Respondents answered 87% of front-of-box questions correctly versus only 67% using the nutrition label.
"Based on our research, we believe standardized, easy-to-read, front-of-package labeling is needed to help consumers make more informed and healthy decisions," said Chloe Turner, the study's lead author and a pediatric resident at the hospital. "Pediatric obesity is a serious issue across the nation, so it's important that we explore options to help parents make smart decisions for their children."