Proposed Nutrition Labels Aim to Increase Consumer Awareness of What They Are Eating

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In an effort to fight the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. and improve consumer awareness of eating habits, the White House and U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled plans for the first changes to nutrition facts labels in 20 years, aiming to make labels easier to understand. First Lady Michelle Obama said, of current labels, “Unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator and a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck.”

To convey health information in a more accurate and straightforward way, the new label includes three main changes:

  1. Putting calorie counts into large type
  2. Adjusting portion sizes to reflect how Americans actually eat
  3. Adding a separate line for added sugars, believed to contribute heavily to obesity in the U.S.

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The new label attracted support from organizations like American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Beverage Association, who has already begun enforcing similar serving size changes.

However, work remains before changes are implemented. The proposed rules were published in the Federal Register, and can be publically reviewed and commented on for 90 days. Once reviewed and finalized, the food industry will have two years to implement changes.

serving size

The estimated cost of implementation for the food industry will be around $2 billion. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association has responded cautiously, stating that they look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders. Although the industry has expressed commitment in working with the administration to improve American diet choices, objections were voiced during label development and if costs are believed to be too high, the industry could lobby Congress to delay implementation.

Regardless, this is a victory for the public health community, and the FDA and stakeholders should proceed with these changes as an approach to slow America’s obesity epidemic.

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4 Responses to “Proposed Nutrition Labels Aim to Increase Consumer Awareness of What They Are Eating”

  1. prelan Says:

    This is a great win in the fight against obesity. Michelle Obama has indeed been a great advocate for this cause, and I think will continue to support it in getting passage through the governmental bodies. I think its important to note that in addition to “per serving” information, “per package” information is proposed to be added too. And while it may cost industry $2 billion as you noted, it “will result in $20 billion to $30 billion in benefits over 20 years.” While it’s not up to par with some other countries’ ways of doing things with color bars and star ratings, it is definitely a step in the right direction!

    UK: http://food.gov.uk/images/document/fop-ni-2.jpg
    Australia: http://www.choice.com.au/%7E/media/Images/Media/Consumer%20news/2013/Front_of_pack_label.ashx
    Sweden, Denmark, Norway: http://www.slv.se/upload/bilder/markning/nyckelhal/50.gif

    From http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/02/26/get-ready-for-a-reminder-of-how-bad-your-food-is-with-every-purchase/

  2. amandam121 Says:

    Thanks for blogging about this topic- I wasn’t aware these changes were in the works. The proposed modifications look really exciting. The adjustment in portion sizes I think is a particularly good idea because I know that one has tripped me up in the past (particularly in packaging of items I would have assumed would be a single serving that were labeled as 2 or more servings). The monetary impact for the food industry is unfortunate though. Do you think there is any sort of slow implementation process (maybe in stages) that could perhaps be a good compromise?

  3. ericadaquila Says:

    Great post! I think this is a great effort to address obesity epidemic in the US; however, I think it is important for the implementing agency to recognize the vary degrees of health literacy that exist within the American population and how this might play a role in the impact of these label changes on reducing obesity in the US. Revamping the labels must be met with efforts to educate the public on how to interpret and comprehend these labels. I think it is also important for the new nutrition labels to include other languages than English. America is a multilingual nation and thus it would be a good communication strategy to also produce labels in the languages that reflect the communities they are being delivered in. Ultimately, these labels are aiming to change the behavior of Americans, and as we have discussed throughout the SBFPHC course, their are multiple phases a person will go through before actually changing a behavior. Thus, I am left with the question, will changing the nutrition labels be enough to change the way Americans eat? I hope that there once those initiative is implemented that there is a monitoring/evaluation that will be able to produce some type of evidence to illustrate if the initiative achieves its intended impact on obesity in America. I think you blog highlights the important point of costs. While $2 million may seem like a lot of money at first glance, I wonder if a cost-effectiveness analysis was to be conducted that included the medical treatment costs of obesity related illness/disease in the US (e.g., treating diabetes type 2, hypertension, etc.) as well as the quality adjusted life years from averted obesity associated medical diseases, if the analysis would make a compelling case that this initiative is actually cost-effective or even cost-saving? Regardless, I think this is a great innovated idea and I hope that it is implemented in a way that can make a impact on the US population!

  4. preetys Says:

    This is a great post emphasizing the importance of Nutrition labeling in influencing consumer choices and its potential impact on controlling the obesity epidemic in the US. I also agree with other commentators who think that revising the food labels in not enough and that it requires education to the customers for making the right food choices as well as understanding the labels along with a cost effective study to determine the role of this strategy in obesity prevention. I share an interesting post on the menu labeling in restaurants in New York and how was its landscape in the beginning as well as its impact. http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/07/menu-labelling

    Another important point to consider is how much of this labeling is any good for people with low numeracy and literacy who either might not be aware of such a guideline or may not be interested because of their inability to comprehend such information. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1301685

    Several alternatives to the current style of menu labeling is being considered in other countries, particularly Europe in order to make the label more user friendly http://www.croi.ie/news/calorie-counting-menu%E2%80%99s-not-solution-healthy-eating and or more meaningful by adding the information on how much one should walk or exercise to burn the calorie intake. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/12December/Pages/Miles-on-menu-helps-healthy-choices.aspx

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