Patients' understanding and use of snack food package nutrition labels

Allen L. Pelletier, Wayne W. Chang, John E. Delzell, John W. McCall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Purpose: Little information exists on how patients in medical practice use food package nutrition labels. We theorized that patients in a general medical practice might not make the distinction between serving size and total package nutrition information, and this might lead to obesity. Methods: Ninety patients between ages of 18 and 65 attending the St. Francis/University of Tennessee Family Practice Center were interviewed to determine whether they could calculate the total calories in sample snack food packages that contained more than one serving. Results: Ninety percent of our patient sample correctly identified the number of calories per individual serving, but only 37% were able to recognize that the sample packages contained multiple servings. Confusion between calories per serving size and total calories per package was correlated with lower educational levels (P = .011) and with the presence of cardiovascular heart disease in our patient sample. Conclusions: Our patients tended to think of a multiple serving package as one serving. They underestimated and under-reported caloric intake from snack food sources. We conclude that snack food labels as actually used by patients do not lead to informed dietary choices. These findings could impact our understanding and management of the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-323
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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