INDIA – A study on the acceptance and potential application of various front-of-pack nutrition label designs in promoting informed food choices by the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition has revealed that “warning labels” can discourage consumers from choosing and consuming even moderately unhealthy foods.

Additionally, it demonstrated how “summary ratings” like the health star or Nutri-Score may be used to find healthier food options.

Summary labels offer a succinct and short description of a product’s primary attributes and advantages, frequently mentioning both beneficial and detrimental nutrients.

Contrarily, warning labels advise consumers about potential risks related to a product by taking into account the nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and salt that are of concern.

Front-of-package labeling (FOPL) is frequently seen as a crucial technique for informing the public about health.

Different FOPNL formats are used in various nations, either voluntarily or as a result of mandated implementation.

A symbol-based FOPNL is now being considered for implementation by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

To support ongoing lobbying and regulatory processes in India, however, context-specific evidence on the efficacy of FOPNL is required.

Taking into account each nation’s unique goals for formulating a FOPNL policy, the sort of FOPNL to be employed in that nation should be decided after considering local, regional, and international evidence as well as that country’s own research.

Given this context, the current study evaluated the cognitive load, informativeness, purchase intention, consumer acceptability, reliability, and understandability of five FOPNL formats: Nutri-Score (NS), Health Star Rating (HSR), Warning Labels (WL), Multiple Traffic Lights (MTL), and Nutri-Star Rating (NSR).

The FOPNL ratings (color coding from “green” for healthy to “orange” for moderately healthy to “red” for unhealthy in the case of NS, and number of stars in the case of HSR) are based on both positive and negative nutrients, and the NS and HSR formats are currently popular in Europe and Australia, respectively.

3,231 participants from five regions of India—the north (Delhi), east (Kolkata), west (Pune), south (Hyderabad), and northeast—participated in the cross-sectional study, which had a quasi-experimental design (Jorhat, Assam).

Although fewer participants in the current study examined the nutrition information, it was found that a higher proportion checked the vegetarian/non-vegetarian and quality symbols.

As they are symbol-based, FOPNL on pre-packaged processed foods is therefore anticipated to have a good acceptance among the Indian populace, it claimed.

“The uniqueness of the study is also that the FOPNL formats were used on different variants of the mock packs of the same food. Unlike in other studies, different foods were not used to depict different labels.

“Therefore, the responses could be solely based on the understanding of the FOPNL without any preconceived perception about the healthiness of the product,” said Dr. Hemalatha R, Director, ICMR-NIN.

The study found that summary labels made moderately healthy or unhealthy versions appear healthier, whereas warning labels (WL and NSR) discouraged more people from selecting them.

“Participants randomized to any of the FOPNL formats were able to identify healthiest and least healthy variants of foods, however, warning labels had a greater impact in altering the health perception of the food products as the presence of even one warning sign prompted more cautious behaviours in choosing the foods,” said Dr. SubbaRao M Gavaravarapu, the lead investigator of the study.

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