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Who Do Not Read and Understand Food Label in Malaysia? Findings from a Population Study

Rashidah Ambak, Leni Tupang, Mohd Hazrin Hasim, Natifah Che Salleh, Norlida Zulkafly, Ruhaya Salleh, Mohamad Hasnan Ahmad and Balkish Mahadir Naidu

Objective: This study determined the prevalence of food label reading and understanding among the Malaysian adults, types of labels being read and factors associated with not reading labels. Methods: Malaysian Adult Nutrition Survey 2014 was a cross-sectional and applied a multistage stratified cluster sampling of living quarters. A total of 4044 adults aged 18-59 years were randomly chosen in selected households to represent the Malaysian adult’s population. Data collection was carried out between March to June 2014. Trained data collectors conducted interview using a validated food label questionnaire to obtain information on whether the respondents read labels (every time they bought or received food) and types of information being read. Complex sample analysis was applied to describe the findings. Result: A total of 2992 respondents (1382 men and 1610 women) answered the questionnaire. About 55.0% of the respondents reported never read labels, sometimes read labels was 22.0% and always read labels was 23.0%. Male sex, lower education, being single (not married/divorced/ widow/widower) and normal weight respondents were significantly less likely to read food label information. Among those who read labels, the expiry date was the most common label information being read (91.8%), followed by the precautionary statement (65.9%). Nutrient information being read was carbohydrate and sugar (21.5%), fat (20.0%) and total energy (14.4%). Nonworking respondents and primary school attainers were significantly less likely not to understand label information. Conclusion: Only half of Malaysian adults read the label when buying or receiving food. Expiry date was the most frequently read information and the prevalence of reading the nutrient information was low. These findings provide useful evidence for the health authorities to plan for nutrition intervention programs in order to increase the food label usage among the relevant target groups.