"One of the goals of the
project was to help particularly teenaged girls and menopausal women
understand how they can get the daily requirement for calcium into
their diet in order to help prevent osteoporosis," said Karen
Chapman-Novakofski, associate professor and nutritionist at the
University of Illinois in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and
registered dietitian Lisa Tussing together developed an activity to
help people have more confidence in understanding and being able to
apply information on nutrition labels. Chapman-Novakofski said food
labels can be thought of in two parts: what you should limit --
total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and perhaps total
carbohydrates; and what you should try to get enough of in your diet
-- vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. "Much more attention has
been paid to what people should limit rather than the nutrients
needed. The average consumer doesn't know, for instance, how much
vitamin A 10 percent of the daily value is or how much calcium 25
percent of the daily value is," she said.
The activity that was developed
involves three learning components. First, participants choose from
an assortment of packaged foods and are taught how to read the
nutrition label on it using the USDA's "Guidance on How to
Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel on Food Labels." Next,
they do some simple math problems in order to learn how the
information relates to their own daily calorie and nutrient intake.
"In the third component, each participant 'taught' the rest of the
class by sharing nutritional information about her product,
including whether it was a good or excellent source of calcium,"
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Participants in the study were
asked how much calcium they consume in their diet before and after
the completing the activity. "The post-test revealed that the
participants significantly increased their calcium intake to 821 mg
per day, up from 372 mg per day," said Chapman-Novakofski. "That's a
lot closer to the daily requirements of 1,200 mg per day for men and
women over 50, 1,000 mg for men and women aged 19 through 50 and
1,300 mg per day for teenagers 9-13 years."
ages 9 to 13 need 1,300 mg of calcium in their daily diet.
That's equivalent to about four servings of dairy products.
Eight ounces of milk or 6 ounces of yogurt each provide about
300 mg. A 1-ounce cube of cheese or cheese stick is closer to
200 mg. Dairy products can be high in fat and calories, but
the amount of calcium is the same regardless of whether the
milk is whole, 2 percent or skim.
Of course, being able to read
and understand the nutrition labels doesn't guarantee that a person
will suddenly start eating right, but at least they can become aware
of what nutrients they are getting from a certain food. "Many people
were surprised to find out that there's calcium in cake mixes,
frozen dinners, dry oatmeal and soups," said Chapman-Novakofski.
"And questions about calcium in food servings led to other questions
about the fat content of foods, how portion sizes are determined,
and the difference between weight and volume of food portions." She
said that the post-evaluation demonstrated that participants
intended to use food labels more often when making shopping
USDA guide used in the activity is available at
[University of Illinois news release]