Objective: To determine how well consumers use and understand nutrition labels and claims in New Zealand and Australia.
Method: A review was undertaken of the literature on nutrition labelling in New Zealand and Australia published up to the end of July 2005. Major electronic databases were searched for appropriate literature and research, as were the bibliographies of relevant publications and pertinent websites. Studies that focused on health claims were excluded.
Results: Sixteen papers were suitable for inclusion in the review. All but one study evaluated self-reported use and understanding of nutrition labels. The single study that evaluated actual (observed) use of labels while shopping found frequency to be much lower than would be expected based on self-reported data. While self-reported understanding of nutrition labels was common, actual (evaluated) understanding appeared moderate at best.
Conclusions: Self-reported use of nutrition labels and claims is common in New Zealand and Australia, but actual use and understanding appears limited. Nutrition labels present an opportunity to improve consumer food choice at point of purchase, but their potential value is limited by apparent lack of consumer understanding.
Implications: Nutrition labels are an important part of a supportive environment that empowers people to make healthy food choices. Improving their ease of use and understanding has the potential to promote healthier food choices.