Survey respondents say that they're paying attention to the nutrition facts, but eye-tracking research shows that that's not the case at all
Americans may think they are paying attention to the Nutrition Facts panel on the foods they purchase, but a new study suggests that most people have the attention span of a two-year-old when it comes to really reading nutrition information.
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Researchers put 203 people to the test by having them observe 64 grocery store items on a computer monitor. Each screen showed the nutrition label, a picture with a list of the ingredients, and a description of the product with price and quantity information. The Nutrition Facts label was shown either on the left, the right, or in the center of the screen so that one third of the participants saw it in each location. The study did not address how well consumers understand the information on the labels.
The computers were equipped with a tracking device to follow eye movements of the participants as they viewed each screen. While the participants knew their eye movements were being followed, they did not know that the focus of the study was nutrition information.
Each subject also completed a survey about their typical grocery shopping and health behaviors. The survey showed that 33 percent of participants said they "almost always" look at calorie content on nutrition labels. The eye-tracker didn't see eye to eye with the participants: only nine percent actually looked at calorie information on almost all food products on the computer screen. Thirty-one percent said they "almost always" look at total fat, 20 percent said the same for trans fat, 24 percent for sugar, and 26 percent said they looked at serving size. Again, the eye-tracker disagreed. Only about one percent actually looked at all the other nutrition information on all food products.