ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2010

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Serving-size information on nutrition labels

Lenny R Vartanian

Building: Holme Building
Room: Cullen Room
Date: 2010-12-03 09:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Last modified: 2010-11-17


Excess energy intake is a key contributor to weight gain and obesity.  One potential means of reducing excess energy intake is to provide consumers with information about the appropriate serving size of a given food.  This information could help consumers make informed decisions about how much they should eat.  Research has indeed shown that providing clear serving-size information reduces overconsumption (e.g., Antonuk & Block, 2006; Wansink & Chandon, 2006).  All packaged foods in Australia include a nutrition label that provides information about the recommended serving size for that food, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) provides food manufacturers with guidelines specifying the type of information that should be included on the nutrition labels.  Specifically, nutrition labels must contain (a) the number of serves per package and (b) the size of a single serve in grams (for solid foods).  In addition to these requirements, manufacturers can also choose to include additional information about serving size, such as the number of food units per serve (e.g., 2 biscuits) or a volume measure (e.g., ½ metric cup of cereal).  This supplementary information can provide an additional tool for consumers to use in gauging how much of a particular food they should be eating.  The purpose of this initial study was to survey the landscape of available packaged food products to determine how frequently supplementary serving-size information (e.g., unit count or volume) is provided on nutrition labels of packaged foods.  Information was collected on 124 grocery items available at two national supermarket chains.  These products belong to 11 broad categories: (1) breakfast cereals, (2) grains (e.g., pasta, rice), (3) biscuits, (4) savoury snacks (e.g., crackers, chips), (5) nuts, (6) dried fruit, (7) confectionary, (8) frozen pizza, (9) frozen chips, (10) frozen meats (e.g., chicken nuggets), and (11) frozen vegetables.  The main question of interest was whether the nutrition label provided any supplementary serving-size information.  Of the 124 food items assessed, 31 (25%) included additional serving size information.  Supplementary information was provided consistently (but not invariably) for only three foods: breakfast cereals, crackers, and chocolate biscuits.  Overall, nutrition labels on the majority of packaged foods provide only the required serving-size information, thus leaving open a number of important questions.  For example, how effectively do people use weight-based serving size information in making decisions about how much to eat?  Are other serving size metrics more useful to consumers in enabling them to accurately approximate the recommended serving size?  Answering these questions will be an important step in helping consumers make healthier decisions about how much to eat, and potentially reducing problems associated with excess energy intake.


Antonuk, B., & Block, L. G. (2006). The effect of single serving versus entire package nutritional information on consumption norms and actual consumption of snack food. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 38, 365-370.

Wansink, B., & Chandon, P. (2006). Can “low-fat” labels lead to obesity? Journal of Marketing Research, 43, 605-617.