Do Food Labels Actually Work? According To A Recent Study, They're More Useful Than You Thought

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Nutrition labels are seen on food packaging on February 27, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The Food and Drug Administration is proposing several changes to the nutrition labels to make it easier for consumers to understand the nutritional value of the food they buy. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Serious question: do nutrition labels actually work on anyone?  If you're anything like me, you've probably found yourself pondering that very question at 2 a.m., struggling to quell your urge to eat six Pop-Tarts in a row (untoasted, because heating them up is for people with self-respect). Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, however, a recent study from Cornell University has found that some people do, in fact, listen to food labels, and when people know the nutritional value of what they're eating, they tend to opt for healthier fare.

According to Science Daily, there isn't actually much evidence in terms of food labels' efficacy. It's easy to assume that the future envisioned by Wall-E is just around the corner, but as it turns out, all that cynicism isn't actually warranted. Researchers at Cornell analyzed data from Cornell dining halls, spanning the three semesters before the introduction of food labels, as well as the three semesters afterward. Although college students aren't exactly known for their nutritious diets — I have a very distinct memory of chasing shots of vodka with applesauce in my senior year — apparently, even the laziest of students would rather listen to food labels than die of type II diabetes at age 24.

The study categorized food by fat content, nutrition content, and calorie count, and after the introduction of food labels, researchers found a "small but significant" change in the type of food being purchased. Sales of low-fat and low-calorie foods increased, while there was a 7 percent reduction in the total calories and fat purchased each week. 

According to co-author David Levitsky, the study's results could help fight the obesity epidemic in America. “Insisting that food labels be visible on the foods we purchase may be the kind of help people need to resist the epidemic of obesity," he told Science Daily

With obesity rates steadily climbing across the country, we need all the help we can get. In fact, food labels have even worked on me — after inspecting the nutritional value of Pop-Tarts, I might even reduce my nightly intake to five instead of six.

Hey. It's baby steps, people.
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