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The decades-long increase in obesity in the U.S. has inspired multiple policies aiming to improve individuals’ food choices, which play an important role in diet-related diseases. Early policies—which have continued to be implemented and refined—took the view that providing consumers with information would give them the tools needed to choose a healthy diet. Both nutrition facts panels, which are provided on the side or back of nearly all packaged food products in the U.S, and calorie labeling in restaurant chains with 20 or more locations seek to address a lack of information among consumers.
While nutrition information is a necessary ingredient for people to choose healthier diets, studies of the effects of both policies show little effect on individuals’ food choices. Part of this null effect may be due to the cost of searching for this information. Recently, efforts to make nutritional information easier for consumers to use in the retail environment have led to the creation of simple shelfbased or front-of-package labels. Simplified nutrition information included on front-of-pack or shelf-based labels shows more promise by making it easier for consumers who face cognitive or time constraints in the store to access and process nutrition information.
While average obesity rates have risen significantly in the U.S, these averages mask important differences in obesity rates, which correlate with demographic and socioeconomic variables, including race, income, and place of residence. On average, minority, rural, and poorer households have higher body mass index (BMI) values, which are used to define weight categories such as overweight and obese than the general population. Although these groups are at higher risk of obesity-related diseases than the general population, research on shelf-based and front -of-pack labels has examined the effects of these labels in the general population. To effectively address the obesity epidemic, designing informational systems tailored to people who are at high risk for obesity-related diseases is important.