Nutrition Labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its proposed updates for the Nutrition Facts panel in late February. Notable proposed changes include updating serving size requirements to reflect amounts people currently eat, and information about added sugars in a food product.

“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,” says Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA.

The FDA justified the inclusion of requiring added sugars on the label by referencing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that said the intake of added sugars is too high in the U.S. population. With regard to changes to how serving sizes are reported, the FDA said 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,” the FDA said.

Other proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel include the following:

  • Present “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that may be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings.
  • Require the declaration of potassium and vitamin D, 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 has shown 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.

“By revamping the Nutrition Facts label, F.D.A. wants to make it easier than ever for consumers to make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet.” says Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.”

Public comment on the proposals will take place during the 90 days following the Feb. 27 announcement.

“Diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts were first introduced,” says Pamela G. Bailey, chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Just as food and beverage manufacturers have responded by creating more than 20,000 healthier product choices since 2002, and by providing tools like Facts Up Front front-of-pack labels, the FDA is responding with a thoughtful review of the Nutrition Facts panel. We look forward to working with the F.D.A. and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rule making process. It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science. Equally as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”

The Nutrition Facts label is found on roughly 700,000 products. The updates announced Feb. 27 support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative in its ongoing efforts to provide parents and families with access to information that helps them make healthier choices.

“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,” says Michelle Obama. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The proposed updates are intended to reflect the latest scientific information about the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The proposed label would also replace out-of-date serving sizes to better align with the amount consumers actually eat, and it would feature a fresh design to highlight key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.

.