The Obama administration is proposing new
food labels that would make it easier to know about calories
and added sugars, a reflection of the shifting science behind nutrition.
Fat was the focus two decades ago when the labels
first were created, but nutritionists are now more concerned with how many
calories we eat
Under the proposed changes, calories would
be in larger, bolder type on food labels, and consumers for the first time
would know whether foods have added sugars.
Misleading serving sizes
Serving sizes would be updated. They
have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing
multiple servings, so the calorie count is lower.
"Our guiding principle here is very
simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your
local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether
it's good for your family," said first lady Michelle Obama, who was to
join the Food and Drug Administration in announcing the proposed changes at the White House.
Mrs Obama was making the announcement as
part of her Let's Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is celebrating
its fourth anniversary.
ways to spend less on food
Still several years away
The new nutrition labels are likely several
years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final
rule could take another year. Once it's final, the agency has proposed giving
industry two years to comply.
The FDA projects food companies will have
to pay around $2 billion as they change the labels.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the
industry group that represents the nation's largest food companies, did not
respond to any specific parts of the proposal but called it a "thoughtful
serve to inform
President Pamela Bailey said it was
important to the food companies that the labels "ultimately serve to
inform, and not confuse, consumers".
It was still not yet clear what the final
labels would look like. The FDA offered two labels in its proposal – one that
looks similar to the current version but is shorter and clearer, and another
that groups the nutrients into a "quick facts" category for things
like fat, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.
There also would be an "avoid too
much" category for saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and
added sugars; and a "get enough" section with vitamin D, potassium,
calcium, iron and fibre.
basics in a nutshell
Both versions list calories above all of
those nutrients in a large, bold type.
The inclusion of added sugars to the label
was one of the biggest revisions. Nutrition advocates have long asked for that
line on the label because it's impossible for consumers to know how much sugar
in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and
how much is added by the manufacturer.
According to the Agriculture Department's
2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute an average of 16%
of the total calories in US diets. Though those naturally occurring sugars
and the added sugars act the same in the body, the USDA says the added sugars
are just empty calories, while naturally occurring ones usually come along with
There's evidence that more people are
reading food labels in recent years.
A USDA study released earlier this year
said 42% of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in
2009 and 2010, up from 34% two years earlier. Older adults were more
likely to use it.
Picture: Food label shocker from Shutterstock
Parents' guide to food labels
labels = healthier choices
expiration labels misleading