`High Fiber'? So What? `Four Grams Of Fiber'? Great!

How do shoppers evaluate the nutritional information on packaged foods? To find out, Madhubalan Viswanathan, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, timed college students as they compared labels that had eithernumeric data or descriptive statements--such as "4 grams of fiber per serving" or "rich in fiber."

The students went for the numbers: They made choices faster than when their selections were based on descriptive phrases. Then, extending his work, Viswanathan turned up this surprise: Brands featuring numerical data were easier to remember. Exactly why is still being studied, Viswanathan says, "but I'm afraid it's for the wrong reason--you don't have to think so much about what the numbers mean." Still, his findings are food for thought, for the industry and for nutrition-labeling experts at the Food & Drug Administration.

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