Age differences in the use of serving size information on food labels: numeracy or attention?

Lisa M Soederberg Miller, Elizabeth Applegate, Laurel A. Beckett, Machelle D. Wilson, Tanja N. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: The ability to use serving size information on food labels is important for managing age-related chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. Past research suggests that older adults are at risk for failing to accurately use this portion of the food label due to numeracy skills. However, the extent to which older adults pay attention to serving size information on packages is unclear. We compared the effects of numeracy and attention on age differences in accurate use of serving size information while individuals evaluated product healthfulness. Design: Accuracy and attention were assessed across two tasks in which participants compared nutrition labels of two products to determine which was more healthful if they were to consume the entire package. Participants’ eye movements were monitored as a measure of attention while they compared two products presented side-by-side on a computer screen. Numeracy as well as food label habits and nutrition knowledge were assessed using questionnaires. Setting: Sacramento area, California, USA, 2013–2014. Subjects: Stratified sample of 358 adults, aged 20–78 years. Results: Accuracy declined with age among those older adults who paid less attention to serving size information. Although numeracy, nutrition knowledge and self-reported food label use supported accuracy, these factors did not influence age differences in accuracy. Conclusions: The data suggest that older adults are less accurate than younger adults in their use of serving size information. Age differences appear to be more related to lack of attention to serving size information than to numeracy skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
StateAccepted/In press - Dec 27 2016


  • Food choice
  • Healthier choices
  • Nutrition label use
  • Serving size information

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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