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Nutritional aspects of food labeling in Saudi Arabia.

Few studies have been conducted on food labeling in Saudi Arabia. The objective of this study was to conduct a baseline survey to provide data on nutritional aspects of food labeling in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, consumers' knowledge, attitudes and practices towards food labeling were assessed.

One hundred and fifty national food products (constituting 10% of the total products manufactured) were randomly selected. These products were checked for the presence of certain standards of nutritional information on the label. Additionally, 400 consumers were randomly selected at the grocery stores, of whom half were women. Data was collected via interviews using a questionnaire. Statistical analysis was performed using percentages and chi-square test.

Results indicated that all the products had nutrition labels in compliance with the Saudi standards for labels of prepackaged foods. However, labels were generally lacking many of the nutrition information required by other international standards. Consumer's survey indicated ignorance of the importance of information on the label such as nutrition content, serving size, special characteristics, health claims special usage and health warning. Their importances were filed only by 18, 1, 15, 9, 5 and zero percent successively. This low awareness may result in low ability to make the right and informed decision when buying prepackaged foods.

The study recommends provision of nutrition education on nutritional aspects of food labeling among consumers and encouraging food product manufacturers to provide more nutrition information on food labels. It also calls for more in depth research in regard to food labeling.

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Introduction

Food labeling is the primary means of communication between the producer and seller of food on one hand, and the purchaser and consumer on the other hand. Due to the increased awareness about the interrelationships between nutrition and health and greater dependency on manufactured foods, professionals and consumers have shown more interest in food labeling information. Food labeling includes any written, printed or graphic matter that is present on the label, accompanies food or is displayed near the food including that for the purpose of promoting its sale or disposal (Codex Alimantarius Commission, 2000). The information required to appear on the label of the prepackaged food should be clear, prominent and readily legible by the consumer under normal conditions of purchase and use (Saudi Arabian Standards for Prepackaged Foods, 1995). The label should provide the consumer with sufficient information about the contents of the container to enable him/her to make the right and informed food purchasing decisions that will meet their health and physiological needs. Consumers can find such information under: nutrition facts, nutrition information or content (ingredient label).

Since the early seventies food labeling information was clearly seen on most manufactured foods in the developed world. Information about package content was obligatory for most foods with known standard content (National Curriculum Council, 1990).

Benefits of Food Labeling are:

--Provides consumers with nutrition information on food available in grocery stores.

--Provides consumers with extensive information on important nutrients in a standardized, easy to read format needed to make in an informed manner food purchasing decisions.

--Provides information on quantities of foods for special health considerations such as saturated fats, cholesterol and fiber.

--Provision of information on the percentage of recommended dietary allowances (RDA) provided by package content would enable consumers to use that food among their daily food plan.

--Unification of the use of expressions such as high, low, free will ensure the same meaning for all food products.

--Provision of health information on relationships between nutrition and diseases such as calcium and osteoporosis, fats and cancer will enable consumers to buy foods for prevention of certain diseases.

--Provision of serving size information will enable consumers to compare between similar products of different brands.

--Provision of information on percentage of natural juice in a drink will enable consumers to compare between products.

Diet plays an essential role in promoting good health and preventing disease. Accordingly, health authorities recommend that people eat a healthful / balanced diet to reduce the risk of contracting serious health conditions. They advise consumers to limit their intake of certain nutrients, such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium, while consuming adequate complex carbohydrates (starch and fibre).

Unfortunately, it is difficult for people to follow this dietary advice. Since nutrition labeling is not mandatory, many labels do not provide any nutrition information what so ever. As a result, consumers can not determine the nutrient content of many foods.

Although some foods do provide a modicum of nutrition information on the label, that information is usually limited in scope, difficult to read, or based on serving sizes that vary significantly within food categories. Moreover, nutrition information is not expressed in ways that are most useful to the average consumer. Without additional information, consumers cannot determine how the quantities of nutrients listed on a label fit into a healthful daily diet.

Surveys show that the majority of consumers believe that nutrition is an important factor in selecting food. In a 1997 survey conducted by Canadians Facts, a survey-research firm based in Canada, for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, found that 95% of adult Canadian grocery shoppers surveyed said that nutrition information labeling is very or somewhat important when selecting foods at the grocery store. However, only 34% of them believed that the nutrition information on labels was satisfactory (Center for Science in the Public Intrest, 1999).

In the U.S, virtually all packaged foods are required to bear a "Nutrition Facts" label that provides American consumers with extensive information on important nutrients in standardized, easy to read format. The "Nutrition Facts" label is very useful in helping Americans to select more healthful foods. For example, a 1996 survey found that 58% of American consumers said they almost always read the nutrition label when buying a food for the first time. One-third of those reading the nutrition label said they stopped buying a food product because of something they read on the label, and about one-quarter started buying and using a certain item after examining the label (Center for Science in the Public Intrest, 1999).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued health claims as one of several ways that food labels can win the attention of health-conscious consumers. These claims alert shoppers to product's health potential by stating that certain foods or food substances--as part of an overall healthy diet- may reduce the risk of certain disease. Examples include folic acid in breakfast cereals, fiber in fruits and vegetables, calcium in dairy products, and calcium or folic acid in some dietary supplements. But food and food substances can qualify for health claims only if they meet FDA requirements (Kurtzweil, 1998).

In a study on the influence of nutrition information on the attitudes and knowledge of dieters, it was found that interest in food labels is high among young women, but that this is not always matched by understanding of quantitative nutrition information. In practice, most women would appear to form their judgements and food choices on the basis of the qualitative description of the food (Evers et. al, 1994).

Media also affects food choices. Advertisements aimed at children is a particular concern. The majority of advertisements aimed at children are for foods or drinks. Of these 75% are for products with a high sugar or fat content. In the supermarket it is often difficult for a parent to resist the insistent demands of a child for a new food which they have seen on TV. So food labels may help parents to have an idea about nutritive value of such foods (Keane and Willets, 1994).

Nutrition labels are an important tool to help people make food purchasing decisions in an informed manner. However, labels do not show, nor will they ever, provide all the information needed to make wise decisions about food. Only people who are well informed about nutrition can do that.

Due to the recent developments in food industry in Saudi Arabia and the increased dependency on prepackaged foods, there is a rising need for providing nutrition information on food labels to enable Saudi consumers and others to make informed food purchasing decisions for a healthy living.

Few studies have been conducted on food labeling in Saudi Arabia. The purpose of this study was to conduct a baseline survey to provide data on nutritional aspects of food labeling in Saudi Arabia.

The specific objectives were:

1. Enlist all national food manufacturers according to types of food manufactured.

2. Analyze food labels using a collection of internationally adopted food standards presented in a uniform manner such as Codex Alimentarius and the American Food Labeling Guide.

3. Assessment of consumers knowledge and practices towards food labeling.

4. Accordingly, suitable steps towards improving nutrition information on food labels will be suggested.

5. Identifying research needs in areas of food labeling.

Material and methods

This survey study was limited to Riyadh City capital, of Saudi Arabia. 150 prepackaged foods were randomly selected from six mega grocery stores to check their food labels. Moreover, 400 consumers were randomly interviewed at some grocery stores. Half of them were women.

Two types of instruments were developed. The first was a one page check list for the presence of certain nutrition labeling information on the food packages. The second instrument was a questionnaire for the consumers to collect data on demographics, importance of food labeling information and type of information needed by the consumers. Data was analyzed using SAS, 1999 Program (8th ed.). Frequencies and percentages were used to show differences between packaged foods and the presence of nutrition information on food labels. Chi-square test was performed to check significant relationships among types of products produced and the presence of nutrition information on the label. The same test was also used to check interrelationships among demographics and the interest of consumers in food labeling information.

Results and discussion

1. Food Packages:

Fig. (1) Shows percentages of food products selected according to food type.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The number of food products produced by the same company (manufacturer) ranged between 1-6 products (Fig. 2).

The number of food products manufactured by the same company has not affected the type of nutrition information presented on the label.

According to the Saudi Standards for pre packaged foods, all products were found to be in compliance with the Saudi Standards for information displayed on the label. These standards include content of package, size or weight of packages manufactory and or expiry dates and name and address of producer. Other information such as nutrient content number of servings per package, special characteristics, health claims or health warning were found on 18, 1, 15, 9 5 and zero percent of the products successively (Fig. 4).

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Fig. 5 shows that more than half of cereal products were packaged into Sacs (54.8%) while more meat products were packaged, into carton boxes. More of the vegetables and fruits were frozen into Sacs (59%) while over 60% of the fats and oil products were kept into bottles.

[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]

Cereal products were found to have more nutrition information on the labels followed by dairy products, drinks and meats ([x.sup.2] = 32.461, P < 0.0014). More health information was seen on labels of cereals, drinks and sweet successively ([x.sup.2] = 22.532, P < 0.0021).

2. Consumer Survey

Saudi consumers comprised two thirds of the sample (66.5%) while the rest were from 8 Arabian countries, 4 Asians and one African country (Fig. 6).

[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]

Three quarters of the sample (74.5%) do have educational level of secondary or above. Only 2.5% were illiterate (Fig 7).

[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]

About one third are working for the government while above one fifth of the sample was housewives (Fig. 8).

[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]

All consumers buy prepackaged food and about 97% of them read food labels always or sometimes. When consumers were asked to rate the information of the utmost importance to them on the label, they selected expiry date (92%) followed by manufactory date (60%) and package content (47%). This information was already available on all food products manufactured in the Kingdom (Fig. 9).

[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]

An awareness scale was constructed to assess consumer's awareness towards food labeling. A maximum of 13 types of nutrition information found on international labels were listed for the consumers. Those who selected between 9-13 types as important information were labeled as of high awareness. Those who selected 5-8 types were of intermediate awareness and below that was considered to be low awareness. Accordingly, 63% of the sample was labeled as of low nutritional awareness, 28% of middle awareness and only 8% were considered to be of high awareness. Men were found to read labels more often than women ([x.sup.2] = 7.0404, P < 0.029). Also more men scored higher in the awareness scale than women ([x.sup.2] = 7.6561, P < 0.0218) and more men need to see manufacturing date on labels than women ([x.sup.2] = 8.2705, P < 0.0407). In general, the higher the educational level of the consumer, the more emphasis he/she puts on the need for information on product expiry dates ([x.sup.2] = 17.2035, P < 0.00gS).

No other significant relationships were found among variables.

Implications

Although the Saudi standards for prepackaged food were enough to provide consumers with needed information to make an informed food purchasing decisions, more information were needed to appear on the label to educate consumers about nutrition. With the recent increase of consumers interest in aspects of interrelationships between nutrition and disease and the reflection of these aspects via media, there is a need for providing consumers with information suitable to fulfill their need to know risk factors associated with higher consumption of certain nutrients.

Nutritionists today are focusing on clarifying benefits and risk factors associated with foods instead of focusing only on risk factors associated with food and health. As a result, Saudi food labels are lacking many important information such as nutrient and calorie content of packaged foods. Serving size is important to alert consumer about his daily needs from certain food products. Moreover, information on certain characteristics of food will help consumers to identify foods which may cause allergy to some of them or foods that help to plan to reduce weight with its low caloric content.

The interest of consumers in seeing details of package content should encourage manufacturers and nutritionists to work together to provide consumers with meaning information that will help them make an informed food purchasing decisions.

As the ties between nutrition and health are becoming titer, the need for cooperation of all sectors involved remains a priority for raising consumer nutritional awareness towards aspects of foods that prevent his health.
Fig. 2 Number of food products produced by the same
manufacturer.

The Ahfad Journal Vol. 18 No. 2 Dec. 2001

1st prod. 56%
2nd prod. 19%
3rd prod. 11%
4th prod. 0%
5th prod. 3%
6th prod. 11%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Fig. 3 Percentage of products according to type of
package.

cane 21%
box 35%
sac 27%
bottle 17%

Note: Table made from pie chart.


Recommendations

For future research we recommend the followings:

1. Conduct laboratory investigation to determine nutrient content of prepackaged foods and to what extend these nutrients provide various consumers with their nutrients and calorie needs.

2. Conduct field survey to determine daily intake of Saudi consumers and how this intake suit their recommended dietary allowances.

3. Conduct field survey to investigate media advertisement on food to determine to what extend these advertisements are significantly providing consumers with proper nutrition information.

4. Conduct evaluation studies for present nutrition education programs in order to determine the need for specific programs geared towards food labeling.

References

Center for Science in the Public Interest (1997) Canadian Nutrition Labeling: A Call For Reform. Toronto: CSPI Reports.

Codex Alimentarius Commission (2000) Food labeling complete texts. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standard Programme.

Evers, A.; Gibson, S.; Kilcast, D. and Rose, D. (1994) "Influence of nutrition Information on attitudes and knowledge of dieters". Nutrition and Food Sciences, Sept.-Oct. 5:17-21.

Himbachi, J.T. and Stokes, R.C. (1982) "Nutrition labeling and public health: Survey of American Institute of Nutrition Members, Food Industry and Consumers." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 36:700-708.

Keane, A. and Willets, A. (1994) "Factors that affect food choice." Nutrition and Food Sciences. July-August 4:15-17.

Kurtzweil, P. (1998) Staking a Claim to Good Health: FDA and Science Behind Health Claims on Foods. Washington D.C.: FDA Consumer.

National Curriculum Council. (1990) Curriculum Guidance Five: Health Education.. New York: NCC

Saudi Arabian Standard Organization (1995) Saudi Arabian Standards for labeling of prepackaged foods Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Standard Organization

Dr. Sidiga Washi (Division of Nutrition and Home Economics, King Sand University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
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Author:Washi, Sidiga
Publication:Ahfad Journal
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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