On February 27th the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a planned revision to its longstanding Nutrition Facts label design. Though it may seem like an inconsequential bit of food package real estate to some people, the Nutrition Facts panel actually provides a lot of key information for consumers – everything from serving size to calorie content to macro and micronutrient content. However, the current version (in effect since 1994) has been deemed out-of-date and a bit misleading. Or at least not as effective as it could be.
According to the FDA, the label revisions “would replace out-of-date serving sizes to better align with how much people really eat, and it would feature a fresh design to highlight key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes” (FDA ). In a concerted effort to educate and empower consumers about nutrition-related health issues such as heart disease and obesity, some specific label changes proposed by the FDA would:
- Require information about the amount of “added sugars” in a food product. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that intake of added sugar is too high in the U.S. population and should be reduced. The FDA proposes to include “added sugars” on the label to help consumers know how much sugar has been added to the product.
- Update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink has changed since the serving sizes were first put in place in 1994. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people “should” be eating.
- Present “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings.
- Focus on potassium and vitamin D intakes, nutrients that some in the U.S. population are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health. Potassium is beneficial in lowering blood pressure. Vitamins A and C would no longer be required on the label, though manufacturers could declare them voluntarily.
- Revise the Daily Values for a variety of nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value on the label, which helps consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.
- While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
- Refresh the format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and Percent Daily Value, which are important in addressing current public health problems like obesity and heart disease. (FDA)
All in all the proposed label updates have received widespread support from folks in the nutrition and public health fields. On the other hand, Food industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are a little less enthusiastic. The FDA will officially release their proposal on March 3rd, after which a public comment period will open for 90 days. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.
Food for thought
How much do you pay attention to the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods? What do you think of the proposed label revision? Do you think it is an improvement on the original design? Is there any additional information that you would like to see highlighted or changed? Next week we’ll take a look at food labeling in other countries.
FDA news release, February 24, 2014: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm387418.htm