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Annie Milbert '14

The Effect of Nutrient Labeling on Food Selection in Female College Students at a Campus Dining Center

Introduction: Obesity rates have nearly tripled among children and adolescents over the past 30 years and almost 70% of adults living in the United States are overweight or obese.  Mandatory calorie labeling in restaurants with more than 20 locations was included in the 2010 United States Health Reform Bill.  The goal of this labeling effort is to provide nutrition information to influence more healthy food selections.  Nutrient labeling in college foodservice could improve nutrition knowledge and promote healthier food choices.

Purpose: To evaluate how female college students use nutrition information and whether increased knowledge influenced food selections in a campus dining center. 

Methods: Approval from the Institutional Review Board and informed consents were obtained for six hundred female college students.  The study was completed in three stages: baseline, treatment, and post-treatment.  The treatment period included use of a feature board displaying the nutrient content of three menu items at the entrance to the dining facility.  Also nutrient labels were placed next to all menu items at the point-of-selection.  Two hundred females completed short surveys and had their dinner meals photographed at each of the three treatments.  Subjects were asked to estimate the content of three nutrients in their meal and accuracy of their estimate was assessed using digital photography and CompNutrition Nutrient Analysis software.  Statistical significance was evaluated using analysis of variance. 

Results:  Average energy content of meals pre-treatment was significantly higher than post-treatment (653 and 497 calories, respectively, p value=0.0001).  Subjects' ability to estimate the sodium content of their meal improved when the nutrition labels were displayed (p value=0.007) and persisted after the labels were removed (p value=0.001). No significant improvement of subject's ability to estimate the energy content or grams of fat in their meal was noted between the three treatments.  Only 17% of surveyed subjects noticed the feature board at the entrance to the dining facility.

Conclusions: Menu labels were associated with a slight decrease in the average energy content of foods selected.  Sodium estimations were the least accurate of the three nutrients initially and improved the most.  Development of nutrient labels and feature boards is time consuming, but before abandoning this strategy more effective placement or incentives to read the feature board may enhance its effectiveness. Access to nutrition information in the food service could help college students choose healthier foods and develop dietary patterns that become lifelong habits, ultimately reducing obesity and chronic disease.

Annie Milbert presented her research at the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, April 24th, 2014.

Annie Milbert '14

To view Poster, click on link below:

The Effect of Nutrient Labeling on Food Selection in Female College Students at a Campus Dining Center

Research Advisor: Amy Olson, PhD, RDN, LD