Obesity is associated with increased mortality, morbidity, and increased health care costs. Curbing the obesity epidemic by altering people's food choices would have substantial health and economic benefit. It has long been believed that one way to promote healthy eating is to provide consumers with nutritional information in the form of a nutrition facts panel (NFP) displayed on product packaging. Research on the effectiveness of this approach suggests that the traditional NFP labels are effective in promoting healthy food choices when people process the information, but that too few people attend to, encode and understand the information presented in traditional NFP labels. In an attempt to increase the positive impact of nutritional labeling, there has been a push to adopt front of panel (FOP) nutritional labels. These FOP labels present information about a few key nutrients on the front of the package, or Principle Display Panel, and include a combination of small text, icon, and/or color systems that are designed to quickly capture the attention of the consumer. Although this approach is intuitively appealing, there is little objective, experimental support validating that FOP labels result in more attention to and processing of nutritional information. Additionally, the format for presenting information in these FOPs has not been based on basic research about attention and cognitive processing. Our proposal applies basic research on visual cognition to the design of a novel FOP format that is optimized to capture attention and will require few cognitive resources to encode, comprehend, and use. Empirical methods traditionally used in basic research on attention and visual cognition (e.g., eye-tracking, change detection, and incidental memory tasks) are used to evaluate how well different FOP designs attract attention to nutritional information, induce encoding of information into memory, and facilitate rapid, cross-product nutritional comparisons. Optimizing the delivery format in this way should produce a label that successfully communicates nutritional information to a greater segment of the population, thereby empowering more people to make healthful dietary decisions, ultimately reducing obesity rates.
The proposal applies basic research on visual attention and cognition to the design and evaluation of effective techniques for presenting nutritional information on food packages. An optimal label will attract attention to itself and communicate substantial nutritional information with little cognitive effort. A label that effectively accomplishes these goals will empower people to make more healthy dietary decisions, thereby reducing obesity rates.