Supermarket shelf labels help African Americans, others shop healthier, study finds

August 01, 2000

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Color-coded labels placed on supermarket shelves to mark healthier food choices are effective in helping guide African Americans and others in their grocery shopping, a new study from the University of Michigan shows. The education program may help shoppers lower their risk of diet-related health problems such as heart disease.

The finding, which adds to similar evidence already gathered among predominantly white populations, was made by dietitians and others from the U-M Health System's Heart Care Program and M-Fit Health Promotion Division. It is published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Given the epidemic of heart disease that we see in African Americans, and the difficulty in reaching them with health messages, we're encouraged that this kind of nutrition advice at the point of purchase seems able to encourage healthy behavior," says Kim Eagle, M.D., chief of cardiology at UMHS, co-director of the Heart Care Program and a co-author on the paper.

The study looked at the effect of the M-Fit Shelf Labeling Program on shopper awareness and behavior after one year's use in 18 Detroit-region supermarkets. It used a simple survey given at store exits to 361 shoppers, a cross-section sample that was 67 percent African American, 66 percent female, and 84 percent high school graduates.

The program's dietitians have analyzed nutrition information for most products in the Detroit supermarkets, and determined which should receive a green "best choice" or yellow "acceptable choice" label understandable by shoppers at all education levels. Foods receive the labels on the basis of total fat, saturated fat, fiber, cholesterol, and sodium content. The program's recommendations are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over 3,760 products received labels, while in-store signs, books and banners helped explain the shelf labeling program further.

vcb In all, 28 percent of surveyed shoppers said they were aware of the M-Fit shelf labels and program. African Americans were twice as likely to be aware as whites shopping in the same supermarkets. The difference remained after adjustment for age, gender and education level.

Most who had noticed the labels had used them. Fifty-six percent of those who knew about the program reported using it to guide their choices. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they used the program a little or sometimes, while another 17 percent used it often or always.

Those who had had a heart-related screening, such as a cholesterol or blood pressure test, in the past year seemed far more than likely to notice the shelf labeling program than those who had not.

"Package nutrition labels can be confusing, but this simple color-coding tells shoppers at a glance which foods they could make a part of their regular diet, and which should be enjoyed in moderation," says Holly Noble, R.D., who currently coordinates the M-Fit supermarket program. "Based on this study, it appears that they're seeing and using it."

Though the stores used in the study do not currently participate in the shelf-labeling program, Noble and her colleagues have worked since 1991 with other Michigan and Ohio stores to implement the color-coded shelf labeling system. More than two dozen stores in the Busch's, Whole Foods, and Heinen's chains are currently participating.

Another 56 stores in Michigan and Wisconsin are working with M-Fit to provide "shelf talker" cards that help shoppers identify "best" and "acceptable" choices using the products' own nutrition labels.

A current list of stores can be found on the World Wide Web at
M-Fit's programs are believed to be unique in the nation, because they are targeted at all shoppers rather than people with existing diabetes, heart disease, or other conditions. Like previous successful test programs elsewhere, M-Fit's offerings are supermarket-based, rather than relying on a guide that shoppers must obtain elsewhere. The program's dietitians constantly review new food products and rate them for participating stores so that shelf labels can be updated.

Other studies have showed that consumers are hungry for such information. The Food Marketing Institute recently found that 83 percent of shoppers say it is very or somewhat important that a supermarket offer nutrition and health information. Fifty-seven percent of consumers use nutrition and health information offered by their supermarkets at least once a month.

M-Fit also helps consumers make healthier choices in local restaurants by identifying healthier menu choices with and M-Fit logo on the menu. Participating restaurants are listed on the M-Fit website, http://www.mfitnutrition.com.

"Our aim is to get shoppers and diners to think about their choices," says Noble. "We provide them with the information they need at a glance, so it's much easier."

The paper in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association is based on work by Eagle and several colleagues who have since left UMHS: Jason Lang, MPH, M.S., Nelda Mercer, M.S., R.D., and Lori Mosca, M.D., MPH, Ph.D. The M-Fit program is directed by Sharon Sheldon, MPH.
-end-


University of Michigan Health System

Related Heart Disease Articles from Brightsurf:

Cellular pathway of genetic heart disease similar to neurodegenerative disease
Research on a genetic heart disease has uncovered a new and unexpected mechanism for heart failure.

Mechanism linking gum disease to heart disease, other inflammatory conditions discovered
The link between periodontal (gum) disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and diabetes has long been established, but the mechanism behind that association has, until now, remained a mystery.

New 'atlas' of human heart cells first step toward precision treatments for heart disease
Scientists have for the first time documented all of the different cell types and genes expressed in the healthy human heart, in research published in the journal Nature.

With a heavy heart: How men and women develop heart disease differently
A new study by researchers from McGill University has uncovered that minerals causing aortic heart valve blockage in men and women are different, a discovery that could change how heart disease is diagnosed and treated.

Heart-healthy diets are naturally low in dietary cholesterol and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts, which is also limits salt, red and processed meats, refined-carbohydrates and added sugars, is relatively low in dietary cholesterol and supports healthy levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.

Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.

Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.

Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.

Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Read More: Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.