This study explored whether the subjects’ knowledge and awareness of food labels were acceptable or not. Among the subjects, 92% had information about food labels and the level of knowledge in women was higher than men. The highest level of awareness was of price and date (expiration and production date) and the lowest level of knowledge was about food additives and artificial colors. The results of studies on the use of nutrition labels by consumers and their awareness of these labels on packaged foods are very different. In some of these studies, little awareness has been reported, and in others, it is reported more often, which can be due to many reasons such as nutritional knowledge, education, age, health consideration, and nutritional contents (9–14).
In the present study, most of the participants claimed that they always read food labels when they purchase food, and the level of attention in women was more than men (53% versus 47%). Similar results were also found in the study by Begum, in which 54% of the subjects stated that they pay attention to food labels on packages at sale points (15). Orozco et al. stated that more than 50% of the study subjects in Ecuador reported not using any of the nutrition label information on processed foods at the time of purchase due to the lower level of education and the accompanying high rate of illiteracy (16).
In this study, among the information that is included on food labels namely nutrients, calorie, carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, iron, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber content, the participants were most attentive to calories and fat content on the labels and this level of attention was higher in women compared with men (55.7% versus 37.3% for calorie and 53.9% versus 43% for fat). In the last years, people’s thoughts have changed regarding body image and obesity in many countries including Iran. Haghighian Roudsari reported that attention to fitness was one of the main determinants of choosing foods with low fat content and calories with the impression that these foods could improve their appearance (17). Abbot also revealed that most of the consumers use labels for a special interest such as health concerns regarding calorie and fat content (18). The minimum level of attention to the items in the table on food labels was related to the attention to the amount of iron and dietary fiber which was approximately equal between men and women. Consistent with the results of previous studies, women are more interested in using food labels than men (14, 19). In the study conducted by Kasapila and Shawa, it was reported that women have a higher tendency than men to use nutrition labels when purchasing food products (20).
The reasons for consumers’ attention to food labels have also been studied. The evidence has revealed that the most important reason for using food labels is observing the expiration and production dates, followed by checking the product price. Many studies on food labels have shown similar results (9, 21–23). The present findings revealed that women's attention to food labels for observing expiration dates, nutritional information, and food additives was higher than men’s. Meanwhile, the weight of the product and its price were the main reasons for checking food labels in men. In the study by Jung (24), it was reported that women paid attention to food labels more often than men, and the key reason for assessing food labels was checking the expiration date (60%), food’s ingredients (16.4%), and nutritional information (13.7%). This might be associated with the design of nutrition labels on food packages, the difficulties to understand the concepts of the items on nutrition labels (15), and the non-user-friendly design (14).
Consumers with a higher education had better practice on food labels than those with lower education levels, which confirmed the results of previous studies (11, 12, 14). This finding revealed that higher education could lead to higher nutritional knowledge and literacy in people and help them to use nutrition labels better. Previous researchers have disclosed that women, married individuals, and highly educated people had a higher tendency to use nutrition labels.