Despite what science may tell us, it’s hard to completely blame the rise in obesity on sugary products, especially when nutritional information is available on most food products you buy at the store. It is up to the consumer to interpret the label and understand that there is not only more than one form of sugar, but also how much and what type of sugar is appropriate for consumption. At the same time, products may be labeled “nutritious” or “healthy” for various reasons. For example, a product may be high in fiber, which is healthy, even though it is extremely high in fat or added sugars as well. Fat-free and low-calorie are mostly misleading, because often products labeled with “fat-free” or “low-cal” can lead us to purchase the product without even looking at the nutrition labels. Also, in order to compensate for the taste difference, fat-free products are usually loaded with sugar. Needless to say, understanding nutrition labels isn’t an easy feat, and as a result they are often ignored.
The FDA recently proposed changes to food labels with the hope that new labeling requirements, along with an updated, “refreshed” design, will help consumers make more informed and healthy choices. You can find the label on the FDA’s website, here (FDA, 2014). Changes include emphasizing calories, the number of servings in a container, and moving daily value percentages to the left. In order to increase the transparency of nutrition labels, the FDA also proposed changes such as more realistic serving sizes. For example, a pint of ice cream is currently labeled as containing four servings, but to reflect what people tend to actually eat, a pint of ice cream with a new label would contain only two servings. The FDA is on the right track, and a new study shows that moving nutrition labels to the front of food packages may do even more to help consumers find healthier alternatives when purchasing food (Hodgkins et al., 2015).
That study, in the British Journal of Nutrition, also compared front of package labels with a health logo (to indicate a healthier choice), traffic light colors to represent the values given to nutrients, percentage guideline daily amounts, or a hybrid of the three. While none of these showed any stronger results than front-of-package labeling in general, other studies consistently agree that alternative labeling methods can and will be effective at helping consumers make smarter choices when food shopping (Thorndike, Sonnenberg, Riis, Barraclough, & Levy, 2012).
It is unclear about when the proposed changes will go into effect, but it is apparent that more public health initiatives like this are needed to combat obesity in America. If we continue to work together to come up with solutions like new food labels, we may see Americans’ waistlines shrinking.
FDA. (2014, August 1). Proposed Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm
Hodgkins, C. E., Raats, M. M., Fife-Schaw, C., Peacock, M., Groppel-Klein, A., Koenigstorfer, J., … Grunert, K. G. (2015, April 21). Guiding healthier food choice: Systematic comparison of four front-of-pack labelling systems and their effect on judgements of product healthiness. The British Journal of Nutrition, 1-12.
Thorndike, A. N., Sonnenberg, L., Riis, J., Barraclough, S., & Levy, D. E. (2012). A 2-phase labeling and choice architecture intervention to improve healthy food and beverage choices. American Journal of Public Health, 102(3), 527-33.