Even though a little over half of the study’s participants had high scores on the basic nutrition knowledge assessment, over half of participants indicated that they did not understand nutrition concepts such as how to interpret the information provided on nutritional facts panels. The usage of nutrition facts panels is associated with making healthy food choices . Nutrition facts panels are the key means of offering information on the nutritional content of packaged food products consumers purchase and as such it is vital that information provided is actually referred to and understood . Hayford, Sakyi-Dawson & Steiner-Asiedu, , conducted a study on the knowledge and use of food labels among Ghanaians and found that although participants felt that nutrition information provided on food packages was important, majority did not know how to interpret the information on nutrition labels. Facts panel usage was also low among participants in the present study, affirming the need for nutrition facts panel usage and interpretation education.
There is a myriad of nutrition information available from different sources and varying in credibility but where a young person looks for nutrition information depends partly on the social context. Online resources were the most patronized source by participants in the present study, whereas an Iranian study found television programmes to be the first go-to for health information, followed by family members and/or close friends, books and public libraries . Online resources may have been the most patronized source of nutrition information due to the increased improvements of telecommunication technologies in Ghana. More Ghanaians have access to the internet than previous years when telecommunication infrastructure was not as advanced . Many young people have the internet at their service on several portable digital devices, anywhere and at any time and this has enabled more opportunities to look up information rapidly and conveniently. Majority of the participants in the present study considered online resources as very reliable which is consistent with findings by Obasola & Agunbiade, . This however contradicts Zhang’s, , report on young adult Americans not perceiving online resources as wholly reliable even though they used online resources regularly when looking for health-related matters. There appears to be a difference between the way young adults from developing countries and developed countries identify quality health information. According to Zhang , his study participants felt it was not advisable to take health information posted on online platforms such as social networking sites as accurate.
Traditional media (television, radio, newspapers, etc) was the second most used source for acquiring nutrition information in the present study. Many participants in this study indicated that nutrition information they acquired from traditional media came about passively. The information disseminated by traditional media is often made for heterogeneous audiences and not tailored to meet specific needs of individuals unlike online resources which host communities of like-minded individuals sharing health information of interest to specific people . Thus, information from traditional media can be impersonal and this may be the reason why many participants in this study did not perceive nutrition information from this source as very reliable. This study also identified friends and peers as an important source of nutrition information, similar to findings from a study on health seeking behaviours by Percheski & Hargittai, . Some participants indicated that after consulting friends they would use the internet to verify whatever information their friends or peers gave them. Thus, online resources were considered to be of higher quality than ideas from friends for these participants. On the other hand, Percheski & Hargittai’s study reported that the internet served purely as a complementary source of information and not as a substitute for other sources such as healthcare professionals, family members and peers among their sample.
Healthcare professionals were the least used source of nutrition information although they were perceived as the most reliable source, even more so than online resources. Obasola & Agunbiade, , pointed out in their study that in many developing countries there are firmly held cultures of self-care practices. When it comes to health, only severe malaise would push one to seek professional medical assistance. A random sample of medical facilities in Accra indicated that to see a registered dietitian or nutritionist in a medical facility would attract a fee ranging from ten to thirty Ghana cedis i.e. 2.28 dollars to 6.83 dollars . Many young adults have limited financial freedom and may not be willing to part with that amount of money for one session with a healthcare professional while they can purchase data at a cheaper price and go online for nutrition information. Healthcare professionals are trained to be literate in health matters and have information about the body and the cause of disease . This includes an understanding of nutritional behaviours and the health implications of such behaviours. Study participants who did use healthcare professionals as a source of nutrition information were less likely to score low on the nutrition knowledge assessment, indicating that interaction with healthcare professionals gave those participants the advantage of having an awareness of practices and concepts related to nutrition as compared to the participants who did not turn to healthcare professionals for nutrition information. It would be worthwhile for healthcare professionals to package health information in an easily accessible manner using online resources to reach young adults and also sensitize young individuals.