The use of food labelling by disadvantaged parents of overweight children (#96)
Improved food labelling, especially front-of-pack labelling, is often proposed as a means of facilitating better food choices among consumers with lower levels of food literacy. This population segment is of particular interest given the higher rates of overweight and obesity among disadvantaged consumers and the higher prevalence of associated health problems. A longitudinal, qualitative study involving low socioeconomic status families with overweight children identified several issues relating to food labelling that have implications for obesity-related policy and practice. The study participants engaged in interviews, focus groups, and self-introspections over the course of the study.
The findings indicate that despite concerns about their children’s health in general, many of the study participants did not fully acknowledge their children’s weight status and as a result did not actively attempt to use food labels to assist them to make better food choices for their children. The few parents who reported regularly using food labels had either attended a parenting training program (such as the Triple P Parenting Program) or a weight loss program (such as Weight Watchers), and/or had concerns about food additives and hence closely examined the ingredients list before selecting food products for their children. The parents often reported using marketing messages on the front of packs (e.g., ‘high in calcium’) to assist them in their decision making. As such, they appear highly vulnerable to one-sided promotional messages that highlight only the positive attributes of the product.
The findings suggest that accurate front-of-pack food labels that provide at-a-glance and easy-to-understand information about the healthiness of food products would be highly useful and beneficial to lower socioeconomic status consumers. The implications of these results for the forthcoming voluntary front-of-pack food labelling system will be discussed.