Nutrition Information and Education

Dietary recommendations can lead to improvements in diet quality by encouraging consumers to make different food choices and also through supply-side changes as food manufacturers adjust their offerings to align with recommendations. For example, the recommendation specifying that half of all grains should be whole, first published in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, led to an increase in whole-grain bread purchases (see Mancino, Lisa and Fred Kuchler. "Demand for Whole-Grain Bread Before and After the Release of the Dietary Guidelines," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 34(1): 76-101, March 2012). Higher-income households responded directly to the recommendations, while lower-income households responded to lower prices for whole-grain breads due to the increased supply as manufacturers prepared for an increase in demand following the release of the 2005 Guidelines.

A recent ERS report examined how diet quality relates to consumers' use of nutritional information, including My Plate and the Nutrition Facts Label. The study found that only a small share of consumers (13 percent) use nutrition information a lot. The researchers found a positive relationship between the use of nutrition information and the nutritional quality of purchases from grocery and other food stores (food at home). However, the nutritional quality of food purchased from fast food places, sit-down restaurants, and other food-away-from-home sources did not vary significantly with the use of nutrition information. See:

The Association Between Nutrition Information Use and the Healthfulness of Food Acquisitions

Information alone is not enough to lead to dramatic improvements in diet quality (see Guthrie, Joanne, Lisa Mancino, and Chung-Tung Jordan Lin. "Nudging Consumers toward Better Food Choices: Policy Approaches to Changing Food Consumption Behaviors," Psychology & Marketing, 32(5): 501–511, May 2015.) Food labeling and small policy nudges can complement dietary guidance.