The rise in obesity and other food-related chronic diseases has prompted public-health officials of local communities, national governments, and international institutions to pay attention to the regulation of food supply and consumer behavior. A wide range of policy interventions has been proposed and tested since the early 21st century in various countries. The most prominent are food taxation, health education, nutritional labeling, behavioral interventions at point-of-decision, advertising, and regulations of food quality and trade. While the standard neoclassical approach to consumer rationality provides limited arguments in favor of public regulations, the recent development of behavioral economics research extends the scope of regulation to many marketing practices of the food industry. In addition, behavioral economics provides arguments in favor of taxation, easy-to-use front-of-pack labels, and the use of nudges for altering consumer choices. A selective but careful review of the empirical literature on taxation, labeling, and nudges suggests that a policy mixing these tools may produce some health benefits. More specifically, soft-drink taxation, front-of-pack labeling policies, regulations of marketing practices, and eating nudges based on affect or behavior manipulations are often effective methods for reducing unhealthy eating. The economic research faces important challenges. First, the lack of a proper control group and exogenous sources of variations in policy variables make evaluation very difficult. Identification is challenging as well, with data covering short time periods over which markets are observed around slowly moving equilibria. In addition, truly exogenous supply or demand shocks are rare events. Second, structural models of consumer choices cannot provide accurate assessment of the welfare benefits of public policies because they consider perfectly rational agents and often ignore the dynamic aspects of food decisions, especially consumer concerns over health. Being able to obtain better welfare evaluation of policies is a priority. Third, there is a lack of research on the food industry response to public policies. Some studies implement empirical industrial organization models to infer the industry strategic reactions from market data. A fruitful avenue is to extend this approach to analyze other key dimensions of industrial strategies, especially decisions regarding the nutritional quality of food. Finally, the implementation of nutritional policies yields systemic consequences that may be underestimated. They give rise to conflicts between public health and trade objectives and alter the business models of the food sector. This may greatly limit the external validity of ex-ante empirical approaches. Future works may benefit from household-, firm-, and product-level data collected in rapidly developing economies where food markets are characterized by rapid transitions, the supply is often more volatile, and exogenous shocks occur more frequently.
May O. Lwin, Jerrald Lau, Andrew Z. H. Yee, and Cyndy Au
Populated by a diverse spread of cultures, Southeast Asia is represented by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional organization comprising some 622 million people in ten countries. While food and beverage labeling policies differ across ASEAN member states, organizations such as the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) have pushed for standardization in the interest of facilitating interregional trade. Set against this backdrop of economic growth, nutrition labeling as a means of influencing consumer choices has become a significant area of focus for health authorities and researchers over the past two decades due to rising chronic disease levels within the region’s increasingly urbanized communities. Food retail trends facing Southeast Asia challenge the state of existing regulations governing, as well as research on food labeling practices in the region. Two main points stand out. First, legislation has remained disparate among the ASEAN nations despite repeated calls for standardization by academics as well as other relevant bodies, with only Malaysia adopting mandatory regulations on food labeling and nutritional claims. Second, existing nutrition labeling research in ASEAN is sorely lacking. In addition, there is a lack of theoretical and methodological diversity in existing studies, leading to an incomplete understanding of nutritional label use in Asia and a crucial research gap that remains to be filled.
J. Craig Andrews, Scot Burton, and Laurel Aynne Cook
It has been since 1990 that the landmark Nutritional Labeling Education Act (NLEA) was passed in the United States, and since 1969 that the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health occurred. In the time since these important events, considerable research has been conducted on how U.S. consumers process and use nutritional labeling. An up-to-date review of nutritional labeling research must address key findings on the processing and use of nutrition facts panels (NFPs), restaurant labeling, front-of-pack (FOP) symbols, health and nutrient content claims, new labeling efforts (e.g., for meat products), and claims not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Message structure mediates the ways in which consumers process nutritional labeling while moderating conditions affect research outcomes associated with labeling efforts. The most recent policy issues and problems to be considered (e.g., by the FDA) include nutritional labeling as well as identifying opportunities for consumer research in helping to promote healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity in the United States and throughout the world. For example, several unanswered research questions remain regarding how the proposed changes to the NFPs—beef, poultry, and seafood labeling; restaurant chain calorie labeling; alternative FOP formats; and regulated and unregulated health and nutrient content claims—will affect consumers. Researchers have yet to examine not only these different labeling and nutrition information formats, but also how they might interact with one another and the role of key moderating conditions (e.g., one’s motivation, ability opportunity to process nutrition information) in affecting consumer processing and behavior.