If food packages could talk, the chatter of their health claims would be deafening every time you entered the grocery store. Labels like gluten-free, low carb, non-GMO are everywhere. But do they really influence customer purchasing and eating behavior?

Since there’s little comprehensive research on the topic, researchers from Tufts University recently collected and analyzed existing evidence on how food packaging, restaurant menus, and point-of-sale marketing can impact consumer eating habits and food production practices.

Here’s what they found.

Food labels do prompt consumers to eat healthier. The researchers found that food labeling leads consumers to eat:  

  • 6.6% fewer calories
  • 10.6% less total fat
  • 13% fewer unhealthy food options (e.g., alcoholic beverages, french fries, and white bread)
  • 13.5% more vegetables

There’s no obvious evidence supporting that food labels affect consumer consumption of carbs, protein, saturated fats, fruits, or whole grains, or encourage them to make healthy choices including salads, soups, lean meat, fish.

Food labels prompted food producers to reduce trans fat and sodium by 64.3% and 8.9%, respectively. The number of calories and the amount of saturated fat and dietary fiber remained unchanged.

Based on the findings of this particular study, it’s safe to say that yes, labels can impact consumer eating habits as well as food manufacturing practices. However, the researchers point out that more research on the subject is required to reach further conclusions.