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USDA: Americans checking nutritional information, eating better

labelAmerican adults appear to be making better nutritional choices and making better use of available nutritional information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this year.

The usda cited findings in a report released by its Economic Research Service, which said consumer use of the Nutritional Facts Panel on most food packaging has increased in recent years. In an ERS survey, 42 percent of working-age adults and 57 percent of older adults reported using the panel most or all of the time when making food choices.

“Consumers rely on the Nutritional Facts Panel for both nutritional information and comparative shopping,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “As long as you’re aware of the serving size listed on the panel, it becomes a good tool in determining which product to buy based on nutritional information, as opposed to advertised claims.”

Reduced consumption of food away from home accounted for 20 percent of the improvements in diet quality. ERS found that during the recession of 2007-2009, U.S. household overall food expenditures declined about 5 percent, mostly due to a 12.9 percent decline in spending on food away from home. Calories consumed through food away from home dropped by 127 calories per day, and study participants ate an average of three fewer meals and 1.5 fewer snacks per month away from home.

The ERS report also indicates changing attitudes about food and nutrition. Compared with 2007, the percentage of working-age adults who believed they have the ability to change their body weight increased by three percentage points in 2010. During the same time period, the report shows there was little change in the importance that price played when making choices at the grocery store, but working-age adults placed increased importance on nutrition when choosing items to purchase.

“When individuals believe that their actions directly affect their body weight, they might be more inclined to make healthier food choices,” said study author Dr. Jessica Todd of the ERS.

That inclination might be evident at supermarket cash registers. The United Fresh Produce Association reported last December that third-quarter 2013 sales of fruits and vegetables showed an increase of those of 2012—despite increases in average retail price.

“Consumers are becoming more nutritious-conscious,” Banks noted. “The fruit and vegetable industry is not only promoting the benefits of eating healthy, but also providing more consumer-friendly products, like salad mixes, pre-cut fruits and vegetables and convenient packaging.”