Thursday, July 17, 2014

Revamping the Nutrition Facts Label

Did you know that the Nutrition Facts label, aka the “food label,” was introduced in 1994 to give consumers an idea of the nutritional value of their food purchased in grocery stores?  And, it hasn’t been updated in 20 years. 

As I wrote about back in February, on the fourth anniversary of the Let’s Move! campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg made a historic announcement.  The food label, as we know it, will never be the same.
Public health advocates say that information is necessary to help consumers make healthy choices at the supermarket. They'd like to see labels on the front of packages and a clearer statement of which ingredients are good and which should be avoided.

The Food and Drug Administration is working on a label overhaul and has proposed two different versions.
According to the Associated Press, “Writing separately in The New England Journal of Medicine on July 16, former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official William H. Dietz both say the FDA doesn't go far enough.”

Associated Press reports the Nutrition Facts label could be improved by:
-Indicate Overall Nutritional Value - There has been more emphasis from the FDA on calories, revised serving sizes closer to what Americans really eat and a new line for added sugars. But Kessler says there is nothing in the new framework that "actively encourages consumers to purchase food rich in the fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rightfully considered 'real food.'"

Both Kessler and Dietz say the panel's emphasis on specific nutrients gives food companies the ability to make claims on the fronts of their packages that can mislead consumers. For example, sugary or fatty foods can entice customers by adding fiber and promoting that. Diners often consume more of a food that is advertised as low in calories, whether it is healthy or not.

-Make Ingredient Lists Clearer - Shoppers may turn over a package of food and look for "sugar" on its ingredient list. What that consumer may not know is that "sugar" could be listed as maltose, dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey or a variety of fruit juice concentrates, among other ways.

-Explain Added Sugars - Though public health specialists have overwhelmingly praised the FDA's proposed addition of an "added sugars" line that would distinguish from naturally occurring sugars, Kessler says the agency needs to include a line suggesting how much sugar people should eat daily. The FDA has said they didn't include a line because there is no accepted recommendation for how much sugar should be consumed on a daily basis.

-Put Food Labels on the Front of Packaging - The FDA said, in 2009, that it was developing proposed nutritional standards that would have to be met before manufacturers place claims on the fronts of packages. That effort has since stalled as the industry has said it is working on its own standards, a move that has frustrated public health advocates.

Kessler proposes front-of-package labels that would list the top three ingredients, the calorie count and the number of additional ingredients in bold type.

-Give Context - At a recent public meeting, several experts told the FDA they would endorse a version of the nutrition facts label that would sort nutrients by "get enough" and "avoid too much." The FDA offered that version as a second option in February's proposal.  Pepin Tuma of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agreed, saying "nobody wants to do math."

Nutrition is a key component of overall health.  In addition to a healthy diet, people need to institute a healthy, active lifestyle – which includes a consistent exercise regimen. 

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