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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Adolescent nutritional awareness and use of food labels: Results from the national nutrition health and examination survey

Janet M Wojcicki and Melvin B Heyman

Author Affiliations

Department of Pediatrics, University of California, 500 Parnassus Avenue MU4E SF, San Francisco, CA 94134-0136, USA

BMC Pediatrics 2012, 12:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12-55

Published: 28 May 2012



Awareness of federal nutrition programs and use of the nutrition facts label are associated with reduced risk for obesity and increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Relationships between nutrition programs, use of food labels and risk for overweight and obesity have rarely been evaluated in adolescents.


Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005–6, we evaluated the frequency of nutrition awareness of USDA and CDC nutrition programs and use of food labels in adolescents. Risk for overweight (BMI ≥ 85-94th percentile) and obesity (BMI ≥ 95th percentile) was assessed in relation to nutrition awareness and label reading.


Most adolescents (92.4%) were aware of the Food Guide Pyramid. Fewer (43.5%) were aware of the 5-A-Day Program, and even less (29.3%) were aware of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Less than 25% of adolescents decided which foods to purchase by reading material on the nutrition facts label. There were significant racial and ethnic differences in awareness of federal nutrition programs with Mexican-Americans having the lowest levels of awareness of the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid in comparison with other groups. Non-Hispanic whites had higher and African-American adolescents had lower frequencies of reading fat information on the nutrition label in comparison to Mexican-American and other Hispanics. Awareness of other nutrition programs or of other information on the nutrition facts label was not associated with increased or decreased risk for overweight or obesity.


Use of the nutrition facts panel information is low among US adolescents. Additionally, less than half of adolescents are aware of federal nutrition programs including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Future studies should evaluate avenues to make nutrition information more accessible to young Americans.