Nutrition Information Labels Don’t Change Eating Habits

Written by NPN Guest on December 6th, 2011

Healthy Eating, Healthy Living

healthy potluck

Today I read this article, and the information in it didn’t surprise me one bit.

“Menu labels in college cafeterias highlighting the nutritional good and bad of meals make no difference in students’ choices, according to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”

The study’s authors also found that people don’t change their orders based on the nutritional information that is mandated in some fast food restaurants.

While some of us are getting trained to read health labels in stores, most of us don’t care when it comes to eating out. And when it comes down to two brands and one tastes better than the other and is cheaper to boot, the healthy bland brand is going back on the shelf.

Most people choose taste and price over nutrition. Taste and price are important to me, but since I don’t buy much processed food I generally don’t have to compromise my health for better taste, because when you make it yourself it will always taste better. However, if I were still eating the Big Macs and strawberry shakes of my childhood, and had never learned to cook, I might not know any different.

Fast food restaurants and food corporations don’t care what we eat. In fact, let’s be honest, their pockets love it when we eat their greasy burgers and fatty onion rings.

In addition, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that people who eat fast food on a regular basis either 1) don’t care what they eat, 2) don’t know any better, 3) can’t afford anything else, 4) don’t have time to cook, 5) don’t know how to cook, and/or 6) don’t know how to cook on a budget. Fast food corporations take advantage of this fact and fill their pockets while their customers get sick and fat.

So how can those of us who do care about what people put in their bodies do about supporting others in making healthy choices?

Be an example.

Be an example to your children. Make dinners from scratch as often as you can. Use healthy ingredients, and talk to your family about what you are feeding them.

Go grocery shopping with your kids. Make it an adventure. Who can find the aisle with the salsa? Who can find the cheapest brand of olive oil?

Make it a learning experience. Who can choose the box of cereal with the least sugar? How much do the apples cost in comparison to the oranges? What is the cost difference between organic and non-organic avocados? Name three things you can make with a can of tomatoes.

Your kids may roll their eyes at you, but I promise that you are laying the foundation for future values and healthy food choices. Get your kids excited about food, and as they get older they will influence their friends’ ways of thinking.

Be an example to your friends and neighbours. If you like throwing dinner parties or having backyard barbecues, do something different next time. Instead of chips and pop and burgers on the BBQ, try grilled fish or chicken or a bean salad, grain salad, green salad, or veggies and dip with bread on the side. You don’t even need to say what you’re doing — your example will get noticed, and the food will be so delicious, people will be asking for your recipes. (If you don’t think you can cook, just look up recipes and follow the instructions — if you can read, you can cook!)

If cost is a factor, throw a salad potluck. You’ll be amazed at all the different salads people can whip up.

Do not, however, decide to switch from meat products to soy products. Taste, remember, is an important factor to influencing people’s future decisions. Last year, the village of Alert Bay, B.C., wanted to do do something radical to influence the health of its community. So on Canada Day it served free tofu dogs to its citizens. As one of this year’s celebration organizers told me, “We aren’t doing that again. No one ate them!”

Menu labels may not influence or change our eating habits, and sometimes healthier offerings don’t budge people either, but we can still make a difference in each other’s lives by example. I truly think that’s all it takes. Start small, and watch the ripple effect.


Melodie is the mom of two girls (ages 3 and 6) and the author of Breastfeeding Moms Unite! where she talks a lot about breastfeeding a pre-schooler, but also provides tips and education about breastfeeding in general. She is also passionate about mom-to-mom support, natural/attachment parenting, real food, and vegetarianism. Melodie is also home schooling her oldest daughter, and has just returned to her mental health career after 6 years of being a SAHM.

3 Responses to Nutrition Information Labels Don’t Change Eating Habits

  1. Lauren  

    “Most people choose taste and price over nutrition.” Very true, and convenience. Particularly, when we didn’t have much money, I’d weigh those four elements every time I went food shopping, and one or more always had to come up short.

    Actually, that’s what I was thinking about when you were giving reasons why people choose fast food. We used to eat it a lot, and our reasons were that it tasted so good (and it does, if you’re used to it!), it was easy to get to (good for on-the-go meals especially), and it was relatively cheap. We’ve since cut it out of our lives, but I do understand why it’s appealing.

    I like your ideas for educating children on why we eat what we do. I don’t often remember to process my feeding decisions out loud, but it’s a good way to let them hear your thoughts on the subject!

  2. Carolsue  

    I agree with this, just like I think that taking toys out of Happy Meals isn’t going to make kids stop eating them! Dumb.
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  3. Amy B  

    I completely agree. I wish that I had had a nutrition course in school (and now wish it for my children) to help make all those numbers more meaningful. I look at labels all the time with my children – but it’s still hard for them to connect the meaning as to why eating so many cookies is bad for you!