African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development

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Use and understanding of nutrition labels among consumers in Lilongwe (Malawi)

W Kasapila, P Shawa


This study investigated use and understanding of nutrition labels on food packages among urban and rural consumers in Lilongwe (Malawi). It also examined the effect of socio-demographic factors and nutrition knowledge on use of nutrition labels. The study surveyed 206 consumers, approached randomly after they checked out at grocery stores. Shop managers and owners gave their consent to conduct the study outside the shops to avoid affecting customer behaviour and revenues. A pre-tested questionnaire was used to collect data for analysis and interpretation. The questionnaire was formulated based on questionnaires validated and used reliably in previous studies. The findings show that self-reported use and understanding of nutrition labels were low, suggesting much lower use and comprehension in real-life retail environments. Urban consumers were more likely to read nutrition panels when purchasing food than rural consumers (χ2=44.058, df=1, p=0.000). Similarly, educated (χ2=68.681, df=3, p=0.000) and female consumers (χ2=8.915, df=1, p=0.003) were more inclined to consult nutrition labels than the other consumers. Nutrition labels were seen as important, particularly when purchasing a product for the first time and when considering buying certain products. All label users (n=60) were interested in information about fat, salt, sugar, vitamins and minerals. Besides nutrition information, prices and taste were important considerations in consumers’ food choices. In terms of nutrition knowledge, rural consumers were as knowledgeable (μ=9.55) as urban consumers (μ=9.99), but they were less likely to connect their knowledge to emerging non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and coronary heart disease, than were urban consumers. Despite these findings, the study had some limitations. For example, the researchers surveyed a small sample of shoppers drawn from one geographical area. As such, the findings obtained are suggestive rather than conclusive. Objective, cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations in future would improve our understanding of actual consumer behaviour in retail shops, and homes in Malawi. Conversely, this study is the first of its kind in Malawi. Therefore, it provides baseline information useful to the healthcare professionals, the government, the food industry and consumers.
Key words: Nutrition, Labels, Consumers, Foods, Malawi

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