Objectives: This study examined the influence of 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act food labels on college students. The purposes of the study were to examine knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of college students regarding labels and relationships among these factors, and whether educational experience with labels was associated with label-reading knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
Design: A descriptive, nonexperimental research design was used. Data were gathered using a survey designed for the study.
Subjects: The study surveyed 208 undergraduate students enrolled in general education classes at a midwestern university.
Statistical analysis: Descriptive statistics analyzed knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of college students regarding food labels. The Student t test and chi 2 analysis evaluated specific measures of behavior. Pearson correlation coefficients and multiple regression analysis examined relationships among variables and identified factors associated with label use.
Results: Students' mean knowledge score was 48%. Knowledge score was positively correlated with attitudes toward labels (r = .14, P = .04) and use of labels (r = .87, P = .0001). Previous education in reading labels was associated with higher knowledge scores (P = .04). Ninety-five percent of participants perceived the label to be useful, but many distrusted nutrition claims. Seventy percent looked at the Nutrition Facts label when purchasing a product for the first time. The single best predictor of general label use was a positive attitude toward labels (P < .001), followed by being a woman (P < .01).
Conclusions: The 1990 National Labeling and Education Act food label has influenced college students. Labeling education efforts are associated with greater knowledge about labels, more favorable attitudes toward them, and increased label use in making food choices. Special attention should be directed toward explaining terms and phrases on labels and the guidelines that ensure truthfulness of nutrition claims. College students need to understand their need for numerous nutrients instead of merely focusing on the fat and caloric content of foods.