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Kangwook David Huh – Medical Student, Western University of Health Sciences

Fanglong Dong, PhD – Assistant Professor, Western University of Health Sciences

Airani Sathananthan, MD – Associate Professor, Western University of Health Science


Objective :

Lifestyle factors, including diet, are important determinants in preventing and treating several medical conditions. Through a survey administered at the Western University Patient Care Center (PCC), we assessed whether subjects with medical conditions such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, coronary artery disease, stroke, and hypertension had a better understanding of the nutrition facts label than those without these conditions.

Methods :

We recruited adult, English and Spanish speaking subjects from the PCC. Subjects were administered surveys which included questions regarding demographics, perceived importance of nutrition, and interpretation of nutrition facts labels. Some specific questions included determination of serving size, added sugar, and caloric content.

Results :

A total of 135 subjects participated. Forty-three percent reported diagnosis of at least one chronic medical condition. The average age was 48 years, 68% were female, 56% were Hispanic, 72% had an income less than $50,000 per year and 46% had a high school education or less. While most subjects (76%) stated that reading nutrition facts label is either extremely important or very important, only 40% of them reported reading the label either always or most of the time.

Sixty percent of subjects identified no barrier (ie, time/language) to reviewing the labels. The average score on the specific nutritional label interpretation questions ranged from 26.5% to 84.7%.  Subjects performed well (85%) in determining the caloric content in one serving. However, when asked to calculate the caloric content in multiple servings, only 53% of the subjects were able to answer the question correctly. There was a statistical significance between the group with at least one chronic medical condition and those without any chronic condition. In 8 out of 10 questions regarding nutrition facts label, a statistically significant difference (p<0.05) was observed between the two groups. 

Discussion :

In this cohort, there seems to be a gap between the perceived importance of nutrition and the ability to interpret the nutrition label correctly. Subjects had more difficulty if they were required to do any form of calculation. Furthermore, those with chronic medical conditions were more likely to misinterpret the label.

Conclusion :

In our population, we saw an overall lack of understanding of the nutrition facts label. This suggests the renewed importance of patient education regarding nutrition in cases where dietary interventions may further increase the efficacy of the treatment regimen.   

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