Here is a diet plan that requires no special meal purchases or even exercise, it just requires a willingness to believe that correlation-causation arrows fly backwards.  People, especially women, who read food labels are thinner.

The results of surveys on the relationship between reading food labels and obesity indicated that the body mass index of those consumers who read the label is 1.49 points lower than those who don't read food labels when shopping for food. This translates as a reduction of almost 9 lbs. for an American woman 5 feet 3 inches tall weighing 163 lbs - already obese.

The results were taken from the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) performed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 25,640 observations were collected on health and eating and shopping habits, which included various questions on whether participants read the nutritional information in supermarkets and how often.

"First we analysed which was the profile of those who read the nutritional label when purchasing foods, and then we moved on to the relationship with their weight," María Loureiro, lead author of the analysis, told
Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas (SINC). "Obesity is one of the most serious health problems in modern day USA. "The number of overweight or obese adults has risen over the years. From 2009 to 2010, more than a third (nearly 37%) of the adult population in this country were obese and in children and adolescents this figure rises to 17%." 

In terms of distribution, the highest obesity prevalence was recorded amongst the non-Latino black population (49.5%), Mexican-Americans (40.4%), Latinos (39.1%) and the non-Latino white population (34.3%), according to 2010 CDC data.

Women read more labels

At least when it comes to claims on surveys, more city people and women read labels than rural people and men. The results showed very significant differences between consumers that read labels and those that do not. Study shows that the smoking population pays much less attention to this information. According to the researcher, "their lifestyle involves less healthy habits and as a consequence, it could be the case that they are not so worried about the nutritional content of the food they eat, according to our results."

It used to be that smokers were thinner than non-smokers. Apparently not the case any more, since they read fewer labels.

City-dwelling population (49% of the sample) take nutritional information into account the most. This is also the case for those with high school education (40% of those surveyed) and universities studies (17% of the total sample).  Oddly, more city people than rural are obese overall.By gender, 58% of men claim to habitually or always read the information contained on nutritional labels while 74% of women do. On average, women who read the nutritional information have a body mass index of 1.48 points lower, whereas this difference is just 0.12 points in men. 

The results showed significant ethnic differences. White female consumers had the greatest reduction in body mass, around 1.76 points.

"We know that this information can be used as a mechanism to prevent obesity. We have seen that those who read food labels are those who live in urban areas, those with high school and high education. As we would hope therefore, campaigns and public policy can be designed to promote the use of nutritional labelling on menus at restaurants and other public establishments for the benefit of those who usually eat out," concludes Loureiro.

Published in Agricultural Economics