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Nutrition Labels May Lead to Buying More Raw Seafood

If grocers put nutrition labels on packages of raw fish—a good nutrient source for cardiovascular health—parents may be more likely to buy the fish, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) study shows.

Xiang Bi, PhD, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics, worked with her colleagues to survey 1,000 people online to gauge consumer reactions to raw fish with nutrition labels. Until 2012, federal rules only required nutrition labels on processed and commercial foods. That year, the federal government started requiring raw meat and poultry products to carry nutrition information on their labels.

But those rules don't apply to raw fish.

In the new study, researchers focused on the following three types of information: nutrition, health, and a combination of nutrition and health. By putting the same nutrition label on raw seafood packages as consumers can find on raw packages of meat, consumers are more willing to buy the raw seafood, the study found. This finding may interest the seafood industry, grocers, and policy makers, the study says.

It also has value for parents and consumers in general, UF/IFAS researchers say.

Bi targeted the web survey to parents who not only have children living at home but also cook meals for their kids. "We focused on parents with children because their choices may very well influence the choices of the future generation," she says.

Before they did the online consumer survey, Bi and her team of Lisa House, PhD, and Zhifeng Gao, PhD, both of whom are also faculty with the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department, learned a bit about seafood purchasing habits from conducting focus groups.

"Though respondents understand the nutritional benefits of seafood and would choose seafood for health and nutritional benefits, some of them still deep-fry their seafood," Bi says. Thus, how you cook seafood remains paramount to its nutrition value. "Light seafood consumers, particularly, do not want to prepare seafood at home."

Among many questions in the online survey, researchers asked participants why they choose seafood for a family meal. Eighty percent cited taste as the most important reason, followed by nutrition, variety, price, fat content, calories, and preparation time.

In addition to focusing on parents, the researchers point out the health benefits of fish, specifically their omega-3 fatty acids that help the heart. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends people of all ages consume fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids also help children since they help in brain, nerve, and eye development, the study says.

Despite these benefits, per-capita consumption of seafood in the United States is about 3.5 oz per week; this is below the AHA minimum recommendation of 7 oz per week.

— Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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