Obesity can be prevented by reading the labels on food products, even more so for women.

Other research has suggested that obesity can be avoided bypositive parenting while the child is growing up or by school-based programs that encourage healthy eating, physical activity and positive attitudes to body image.

The current study, published in the journal Agricultural Economics, found that female shoppers who check food labels weigh almost 4 kilograms less (or almost 9 pounds).

The scientists set out to examine the connection between reading the labels and obesity. They found that the BMI (body mass index) of buyers who check labels is 1.39 points lower than those who never even think about nutrition facts when they are at the grocery store.

For example, if an American girl who weighed 74 kg and measured 1.62 cm, used this caution while shopping, she would lose 3.91 kg.

The team used data from the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) carried out by the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It contained 25,640 separate pieces of data concerning people’s shopping and eating habits.

Information regarding whether the subjects read the nutritional information in grocery stories and how often was included in the data.

“First we analyzed which was the profile of those who read the nutritional label when purchasing foods, and then we moved on to the relationship with their weight,” explained head author María Loureiro.

Loureiro continued:

“Obesity is one of the most serious health problems in modern day USA. The number of overweight or obese adults has risen over the years. From 2009 to 2010, more than a third (nearly 37%) of the adult population in this country were obese and in children and adolescents this figure rises to 17%.”

According to CDC data from 2010, the highest obesity prevalence was found in:

  • non-Hispanic African-Americans (49.5%)
  • Mexican Americans (40.4%)
  • Latins (39.1%)
  • non-Hispanic Caucasians (34.3%)

There was a considerable difference found between buyers that read labels and those who do not. The results indicated that smokers care a lot less about this information.

These smokers might not be so concerned about the nutritional facts of the foods they consume since their lifestyle, in general, involves less healthy habits, Loureiro pointed out.

Those who live inside city limits (49% of the sample) review nutritional information the most. Individuals with a high school degree also often visit nutrition labels (40% of those surveyed) and people with universities studies as well (17% of the total sample).

With regards to sex, 58% of men either habitually or always read nutritional labels. However, this figure stands at 74% for women.

“In general, the associated impact is higher amongst women than men,” revealed the expert. On average, women who are health conscious in this aspect have a body mass index of 1.48 points lower, while men only see a reduction of only 0.12.

A great amount of ethnic differences was also found. The white female consumers have the greatest effect from checking the labels on food – they experience a reduction in the body mass of around 1.76 points.

Loureiro concluded:

“We know that this information can be used as a mechanism to prevent obesity. We have seen that those who read food labels are those who live in urban areas, those with high school and high education. As we would hope therefore, campaigns and public policy can be designed to promote the use of nutritional labelling on menus at restaurants and other public establishments for the benefit of those who usually eat out.”

Written by Sarah Glynn