Nutrition Labels and Obesity
Jayachandran N. Variyam, John Cawley
NBER Working Paper No. 11956
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) imposed significant changes in the information about calories and nutrients that manufacturers of packaged foods must provide to consumers. This paper tests whether the release of this information impacted body weight and obesity among American adults. We estimate the effect of the new label using a difference-in-differences method. We compare the change before and after the implementation of NLEA in body weight among those who use labels when food shopping to that among those who do not use labels. In National Health Interview Survey data we find, among non-Hispanic white women, that the implementation of the new labels was associated with a decrease in body weight and the probability of obesity. Using NLEA regulatory impact analysis benchmarks, we estimate that the total monetary benefit of this decrease in body weight was $63 to $166 billion over a 20-year period, far in excess of the costs of the NLEA.