DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Adherence to a healthy diet can delay the onset of, as well as reduce the impact of, numerous diseases which result in healthcare and lost productivity costs in excess of $43 billion annually in the United States. Factors that support healthy dietary behaviors are multifaceted and many are difficult to modify. In this proposal, we examine an approach to dietary quality improvement that focuses on decision making and the information processes that support it. More specifically, we propose an examination of how food labels, a potentially important source of diet and health information, affect decision quality. In a series of laboratory studies, we manipulate food label information (nutrition facts panels, ingredient lists, label claims, and brand familiarity) and use eye tracking and think-aloud methodologies to investigate processes (e.g., the number of pieces of information considered, relative weight given to each type of information, potential biases of one source type over another) that individuals use to understand the food label information in order to make decisions regarding food choice. We also examine the extent to which the quality of decisions based on food labels can be increased through information processing tasks to a greater extent than through reading food label pamphlets. Information processing strategies and decision quality will be evaluated in light of life course and food environment (e.g., local food retailer availability and food advertising). A life course approach is essential because of the constellation of changes that occur in later life that increase the importance of nutrition (due to increased diet-related chronic illnesses) yet render nutrition information more challenging to understand (due to declines working memory capacity). A consideration of the food environment is essential because individuals have varying opportunities and resources for healthy food selection which will likely impact how adults process nutrition messages. We propose an ecological model of health communication that is grounded within a framework emphasizing connections between people and places, and use stratified cluster sampling to assure that we examine information processing as it occurs across a wide segment of society. The long-term goal of this project is to increase dietary choice through more effective communication of nutrition information on food labels. To the extent that labels are more malleable than are other factors related to dietary decisions, such as food environment or education, food label modifications may represent a relatively inexpensive approach to reducing the incidence of diet-related diseases.
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