Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the 20th anniversary of the addition of the Nutrition Facts label to our food packaging. Now, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of nutrition facts, the agency is proposing a bit of a label makeover.
“The food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed [over the last 20 years],” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, according to The Associated Press. “It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic.”
According to the FDA, the use of nutrition labels is increasing, with about 54 percent of consumers saying they use the label to choose healthier food options. In response, many companies have taken steps to make foods more healthful and appealing to nutrition-conscious consumers. For instance, many food manufacturers have removed trans fat from their items because of an increased public knowledge of its links to heart disease.
Of course, the FDA is happy with the increased nutrition awareness, but sees an opportunity to increase the label’s effectiveness by making a few changes. "There's a feeling that nutrition labels haven't been as effective as they should be," says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In response, the FDA has sent proposed guidelines for the new labels to the White House. Some of those changes may include:
1. Making the number of calories more prominent. "When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren't intuitively familiar with,” Jacobson said. But one number that most Americans have become particularly familiar with is the calorie-count. We go to the gym to burn calories, and we choose low-calorie foods in hopes of not packing on the extra pounds. Placing the calorie count more prominently, the thinking goes, will make it easier for consumers to choose the lower calorie option.
2. Clarifying serving size. We’ve all done it. You look at the amount of calories and fat in a food item based on the nutrition facts label, think it’s OK, then realize that the pack of whatever you’re eating is actually two or three serving sizes. As part of its proposed changes, the FDA may do something to force food manufacturers to more accurately represent serving size.
3. Changing the measurements from grams to... ounces? This one isn’t so clear. Though Jacobson mentioned that people don’t really understand what a gram is, he didn’t say what nutrition facts labels may replace it with. Perhaps teaspoons? In any case, it’s worth thinking about.
Overall, many nutrition experts praise the nutrition label makeover, saying it’s long overdue. Clearer information that is consistent with modern understandings of nutrition can only be beneficial as the nation combats a growing obesity epidemic. For more information on nutrition facts labels, visit the FDA online.