Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center questioned 200 patients from a wide socioeconomic range, and asked them to interpret the nutrient content of food labels according to the amount of food consumed. The researchers then asked the participants to choose which foods contained more or less of certain nutrients.
When asked to calculate the number of carbohydrates consumed from a 20-ounce bottle of soda containing 2.5 servings, only 37 percent of the patients were able to calculate the correct answer. Only 60 percent could calculate the carbohydrates in half a bagel if a serving size was listed as a whole bagel.
Consumer advocate Mike Adams, author of "The Seven Laws of Nutrition,"says it is "alarming" that so many Americans lack the skills necessary to calculate nutrient intake. "Ironically, part of the reason cognitive function is so poor among American consumers is precisely because of the neurotoxic ingredients found in the food supply," Adams says. "People can't understand the labels because they keep eating the food."
Russell Rothman, the study's lead author, says health care providers should improve communication with patients on using food labels, and calls for the FDA to utilize his study's information to improve the design of food labels to help consumers better care for their nutrition.
"Poor understanding of nutrition labels can make it difficult for patients to follow a good diet," Rothman says. "Of particular concern are situations that involve interpretation and application of food size."
Sixty-eight percent of the study's participants had at least some college education, though 63 percent displayed math skills below the ninth-grade level. Seventy-seven percent displayed literacy skills below the ninth-grade level. More than 40 percent suffered from chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension, while 23 percent said they were on specific diet plans.