Researchers are advising parents and educators to teach teenagers how to interpret nutritional facts labels on foods, after a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicated that those who read them do not necessarily follow a healthy diet.
The Agricultural Research Service-funded survey was led by researchers at Tufts University in Boston and carried out among 300 boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years, mostly of Caucasian or African-American ethnicity.
Nearly 22 percent of participants claimed they always read nutrition labels and the same percentage said they never read them. More than 56 percent of participants reported sometimes reading nutritional fact labels.
Assessment of their dietary fat intake showed that adolescent boys who said they read the labels consume more fat than boys who do not, and than girls who do.
The researchers suggest that this could be due to boys' desire to "beef up" by consuming more protein - and that in the process they consume more fat.
African-Americans were also found to consume more calories from fat than their Caucasian counterparts.
The relationship between the label-reading habits and diets of younger Americans is seen by the study authors as key to safeguarding against disease in later life. They say there is a need for more research on the subject.
In the meantime, consumers can consult the FDA's recently updated resource "How To Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label".