(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time in more than two decades, the White House and the Food and Drug Administration are unveiling major changes to the iconic and outdated nutrition facts label found on most food packages.
The new label is being announced later Thursday morning by first lady Michelle Obama at an anniversary event at the White House for her Let’s Move! campaign, which combats child obesity.
“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,” Michelle Obama said. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”
The way Americans consume food has without doubt changed dramatically in the past 20 years and the proposed label changes are designed to reflect those changes, be easy for consumers to understand and be based on the latest scientific information.
The changes will have a broad sweeping effect as the rule, when finalized, will affect all packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The new label changes have been in the works for more than a decade. The last time any change was made to the label was in 2006, when the inclusion of trans fat became a requirement.
“For 20 years consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said. “To remain relevant, the FDA’s newly proposed nutrition facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”
Here are some highlights:
“Calories” appears in a larger font, and the number of calories is even bigger and bolded. Mike Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the idea was to make calories more prominent in hopes of emphasizing parts of the label that affect obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The new label will update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people actually eat. Ever notice how a 20-ounce soda bottle will say 2.5 servings, even though you drink it in one sitting? The proposed rules now call for it to be considered one serving. A serving of ice cream will also increase from ½ cup to 1 cup, which reflects how much people eat and drink today.
FDA has stated that, “By law, the label information on serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what the ‘should’ be eating.” This will cause the number listed under calories to go up, too. Visually, servings per container also appears larger and bolder on the label.
In addition, the FDA is changing serving sizes on 27 of 157 foods for which there are serving sizes. Some serving sizes will increase, while others, like a single serving of yogurt, will go down. One serving of yogurt will go to 6 ounces from 8 ounces, which reflects the typical size of a single-serving yogurt container.
Others that will see their serving size double include breakfast foods like muffins, bagels and toaster pastries. Before a serving size was half of the item, now it will be the whole thing.
The FDA has also proposed adding an additional 25 food categories that simply didn’t exist decades ago. Some of those items include pot stickers, won ton wrappers, sun dried tomatoes, carob powder, almond milk and some seasonings and oils.
Sugar is listed under carbohydrates now, but there will be a new subcategory under sugar called “added sugar.” Added sugars are sugars not naturally occurring in food. Experts suggest eating less added sugar because they increase calorie intake and prevent people from eating foods that are good for you.
“I think there are things in the labeling that consumers will find much easier to understand,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “They’ll certainly get the calories issue more easily and the business about added sugars is absolutely terrific. People have always wondered how much sugar these companies are putting into these products, now they’re going to know.”
Many kinds of fats are now listed on the panel (total, saturated, trans, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated). The only change to the fat listing on the label is that “calories from fat” will no longer be required on the new label because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
Vitamins A and C will no longer be required to be listed but vitamin D and potassium are being added because data shows people aren’t getting enough of these two vitamins, especially because they are “nutrients of public health significance.” Vitamin D is important for bone health and potassium affects blood pressure, among other things. Calcium and iron will continue to be required.
The daily value for sodium is being adjusted to 2,300 milligrams a day from 2,400. Daily values for dietary fiber and vitamin D are increasing. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is now 400 international units (10 micrograms), but the proposal calls for it to double to 20 micrograms. Dietary fiber values are increasing to 28 grams from 25 grams.
As for the aesthetics of the label, it is also getting a new look. Consumers won’t be able to miss the new large size of calories and serving per container but they’ll also see “Daily Values” shifted to the left of the label to draw eyes there first. The footnote that you’re used to seeing that explains daily value is also being revised to explain it more clearly.
Nutrition label laws were last changed in 1990, and the labels themselves actually changed in 1994, when the focus was on diet-related diseases, like heart disease, stroke and cancer. The way Americans eat has obviously changed pretty dramatically since then, and the FDA admits that “much of the information currently provided on the Nutrition Facts…label is based on old reference values and scientific information.”
The FDA estimates it will cost the food industry $2 billion to implement these changes, but also forecasts a $20-30 billion public health benefit. Once the label is announced later Thursday morning, the FDA opens the proposed rules up to 90 days of public comment and what is often a lengthy review and implementation process, meaning consumers may not actually see any changes to nutrition labels in grocery stores for years.
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