New research conducted by a researcher from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences highlights that a lack of knowledge about nutrition labels may significantly contribute to the nutrition gaps between people living in urban and rural areas of China.

The study, recently published in the journal Nutrients, revealed that rural respondents had less understanding, lower usage and perceived fewer benefits from nutrition labels compared to their urban counterparts.

Factors explaining disparity in nutrition label knowledge

The research findings indicated that various factors could explain nearly 99% of the disparity in nutrition label knowledge between urban and rural China.

These factors include a lesser emphasis on food safety, inadequate education about labels, fewer accessible shopping locations and lower income levels.

Addressing these factors could potentially play a crucial role in reducing the knowledge gap, enhancing the use of nutrition labels and reaping their perceived benefits.

Potential policies to bridge the urban-rural disparity in nutrition labels

Linlin Fan, assistant professor of agricultural economics and lead researcher at Penn State’s College, suggests that policy interventions targeting the urban-rural disparity in knowledge, usage and perceived benefits of nutrition labels could contribute to closing the gap in diet quality and health in China.

Policies aimed at increasing household income and education, improving attention to food safety and enhancing the availability of large grocery stores in rural areas are recommended. These measures may prove beneficial in reducing the disparities in diet-related chronic diseases and improving nutrition outcomes.

Incorporating nutrition labels into everyday food choices has been shown in previous studies to result in better diets and lower risks of diet-related health issues.

For instance, research has demonstrated that the use of nutrition labels can lead to reduced intake of cholesterol, sodium and daily calories from saturated fat while simultaneously increasing daily fibre intake.

The study analysed data from 1,635 individuals of varying ages across China. Compared to urban respondents, rural participants exhibited lower levels of knowledge (9.4%), less usage (14.9%) and a reduced perception of benefits (8.9%) associated with nutrition labels.

Nutrition label knowledge was identified as the primary predictor contributing to the urban-rural disparity in label usage (29.6%) while both knowledge and usage played significant roles in the perceived benefits disparity (29.7% and 22.8%, respectively).

Although the study focused on China, the researcher suggests that the findings could have implications beyond the country’s borders.

Rural areas in the US also experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality from diet-related chronic conditions compared to their urban counterparts.

The study’s results indicate that income, education, attention to food safety and access to large grocery stores are crucial factors influencing nutrition label knowledge, usage and overall health outcomes.

Therefore, similar policies aimed at enhancing income, education, food safety awareness and access to large grocery stores could potentially benefit rural America and help bridge the urban-rural disparity in the US.

The research was a collaborative effort involving Zhigang Wang from Renmin University of China, Yiwen Zhao, a doctoral student in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, and Ye Ma from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in Beijing.

The study received support from the China National Natural Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Hatch appropriations.