Food and nutrition labelling as a nutrition education tool: understanding, perspectives and practices of South African dietitians
Introduction: Food and nutrition labelling is an effective tool to address diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in which nutrition education plays an integral role.
Objectives: To investigate South African dietitians’ understanding, perspectives and practices of food and nutrition labelling as a nutrition education tool.
Design: A quantitative descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted.
Setting: A nationwide survey was undertaken of dietitians from all sectors of practice.
Subjects: Dietitians registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) (n = 137).
Outcome measures: A self-administered electronic survey was used for data collection.
Results: Awareness of labelling regulations was high (86.9%); however, confidence in knowledge of regulations was lacking (53.3%), as well as knowledge regarding food-labelling regulations (R146) (52.6%). More than half (57.7%) regarded labels as relevant to their daily work and 51.8% used labels frequently, varying use depending on client needs. For education purposes, the nutrition information table (75.2%), client-specific nutrients (70.0%) and health endorsement logos (HELs) (59.2%) were most frequently used. Product healthiness was mainly evaluated using the cooking method (86.1%), level of processing (67.9%) and product category (63.5%). Least used aspects were origin/certification claims (39.4%) and animal husbandry (34.3%). Highly rated aspects included belief in label efficacy (88.3%), accuracy (81.8%), a positive attitude (87.6%) and relevance (80.2%).
Conclusion: To promote optimal use of labelling as a nutrition education tool, standardisation, trustworthiness and continuing education should be addressed. Furthermore, the urgent promulgation of the draft food labelling regulations will address existing barriers to label use.
Keywords: dietitian, education, food labelling, nutrition, perspectives, South Africa
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