While cruising nutrition headlines, I stumbled across – Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. In addition to showing the commute time from one destination to the next, Google Maps beta tested including how many calories would be burned if one walked and, in some instances, even equated the number of calories burned to calories in food.
This feature was met with mixed reviews – some valued the information and felt it could encourage healthier decisions (#digitalhealth), while others found it particularly alarming and potentially dangerous for people with eating disorders. Ultimately the feature was removed, but this reignites an important conversation about the transparency and promotion of nutrition facts information.
Should caloric information be prominent? The Affordable Care Act includes requirements for certain restaurants and vending machines to display or have nutrition information readily available. And according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, Americans want access to nutrition label information, even if they don’t use it. Information can be powerful for positive change but also negative consequences, so how can we best communicate information in a way that avoids causing harm?
How are people using this information, if at all? About half of adults state they read nutrition facts labels “always” or “most of the time”. People look at labels and packaging for various reasons, ranging from specific nutrients or ingredients for health purposes to helping decide which brand of a food to buy.
Is more (numbers and data) better? A majority of people want to have access to information, and about half of people look at the information, but the same survey shows that people largely ignore labels because they are too difficult to understand (59%) or it takes too much time (75%).
While the intentions of transparency of information are good, the information may be overly-complicated to interpret and likely misses the mark of making nutrition information digestible (pun intended). We might be better served to offer simplified approaches for communicating nutrition information about food. Stay tuned for examples of this.
In the meantime, how do you feel about access to nutrition information – whether calories, nutrients, or specific health claims? Do you want it or need it? How confident are you that you can interpret the available information?
Jordan Lin C-T, Zhang Y, Carlton ED, Lo SC. 2014 FDA Health and Diet Survey. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration. May 6, 2016. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodScienceResearch/ConsumerBehaviorResearch/UCM497251.pdf?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
Prentice C & Kahn C. Americans want required food labels even if they don’t read them. Reuters. October 2, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-foodlabels-poll/americans-want-required-food-labels-even-if-they-dont-read-them-idUSKCN1C71F5
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements. May 1, 2017. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/labelingnutrition/ucm217762.htm
Victor D. Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. The New York Times. October 17, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/technology/google-maps-calories.html