Consumers skeptical about health claims on food packaging

January 27, 2012

Nielsen, a global provider of insights and analytics around what consumers watch and buy, has released a report indicating that 59% of consumers around the world have difficulty understanding nutritional labels on food packaging and more than half (53%) consider themselves overweight.

Nielsen’s 2011 Global Survey of more than 25,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries shows that approximately half of consumers (48%) are trying to lose weight and of those, more than three-quarters (78%) are trying to lose weight through dieting.

Nielsen’s study shows that 59% of consumers around the world have difficulty understanding nutritional facts on food packaging, with 52% understanding the labels “in part.” Forty-one percent of global respondents “mostly” understand nutritional labels, down from 44% in a 2008 Nielsen report. Seven percent say they do not understand nutritional labels at all.

Nielsen’s study shows that global respondents are skeptical about the accuracy and credibility of health claims found on food packaging, such as “low fat” and “all natural.” Across 10 nutritional content categories studied, more than two-thirds of global respondents indicate they believe the nutritional claims are either never or only sometimes trustworthy. Calorie count claims are the most trusted, with 33% of respondents believing calorie count claims are always accurate, and 58% finding them sometimes accurate. Vitamin and fat content are the second and third most trusted claims, respectively.

On average, 15% of global respondents rate less-defined claims such as “freshness” and “heart-healthy” as “always accurate.” A majority of consumers (~80%) think that the health claims are never or only sometimes believable.

Press release