The Label Reading Diet

Have you heard of the label reading diet?  A recent study suggests simply reading nutrition labels on packaged goods helped people lose weight. That’s right, read the label before you eat, and you may stay trim.

The study analyzed the responses of 3,706 participants aged 37 to 50 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’s last three surveys. The last survey included three new questions to determine if respondents were trying to lose weight or maintain their current weight, and if they read the nutrition label and ingredients list the first time they buy a new product.

The results suggested a positive association between reading labels and engaging in physical activity (at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day three times per week) on weight loss. The most positive results were seen among participants who were only reading labels at first, but began engaging in regular exercise in conjunction with reading labels as part of their weight loss strategy.  Among people who only performed one activity (either label-reading or exercising), results suggested a possible weight loss advantage among label-readers alone compared to exercisers alone, though the statistical significance of this finding was weak.

After age 45, label reading and physical activity dwindled. Furthermore, men were more likely to engage in vigorous exercise, while women were more likely to read food labels. The research found that both men and older participants were less successful in their weight loss efforts than women and younger participants.

Over the past 20 years, much focus has been placed on nutrition labels on packaged foods, thanks to the FDA’s National Labeling Enforcement Act (NLEA). Since the bill went into effect, it has saved $166 billion in mortality, medical bills, and lost work productivity. Also, with the recent passing of the health care reform bill, diners will begin to see calorie contents posted on chain restaurant menu items nationwide. The rising importance of food labels has even influenced the USDA’s food assistance program, SNAP, and its Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which both offer educational materials on how to read nutrition labels and choose foods wisely.

Reading labels may not solve the battle of the bulge entirely, but this study shows it is an excellent habit to add to a healthy lifestyle involving smart food choices and regular exercise.

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