Background: Front-of-Pack Nutritional Labels are considered a useful tool to help consumers orient themselves in their food choices and direct their behavior toward a healthier diet. FOPNL development and use are part of a framework that includes cognitive, biological, hedonic and cultural aspects, able to affect consumers’ eating and purchasing behavior.
Aim: Given the complexity of the matter, the aim of this narrative review is to analyze the combination of different factors that drive food choices and eating behaviors and to highlight some aspects that are not fully studied.
Methods: The authors conducted the research using a top-down approach at first, followed by a bottom-up approach; starting with general considerations about the purchasing process, gradually narrowing the discussion to a specific sub-population, and finally extending the discussion back to more general reasonings about the direction to adopt in future, or at least to
evaluate, for effective communication.
Results: Biases and attitudes toward food products were found to regularly interfere with buying behavior patterns, making it impossible to standardize an average consumer. This reflects in current research, increasing the complexity of the topic. All determinants influencing food choices are often assessed individually rather than in a synergistic and multidimensional context, while the purchasing scenario is characterized by multiple stimuli to which the consumer is subjected. FOPNLs’ impact on perceived healthiness has been studied in different conditions, but some population subgroups have not been sufficiently represented. In particular, the effect of FOPNLs on consumers suffering from eating disorders is understudied and needs further attention. Furthermore, some approaches can be compared to “negative nutrition” or “loss-framed communication”, putting nutrients out of context, emphasizing losses more than gains and risking promoting negative feelings in consumers.
Conclusion: Due to the heterogeneity of studies, evidence on what works best in driving people to adopt lasting lifestyle changes is still mixed. Science communicators and policymakers should consider the possibility that a multi-component approach incorporating nutrition information and education may be a key strategy to promote consumers’ self-consciousness and to support them in their cognitive efforts toward a healthy and sustainable diet.