Nutrition Facts Label Set for Change
Almost 20 years ago the Nutrition Facts label was introduced. Before then, an ingredient list was the only information on the package for consumers to use. Enter the internet and sites like ours and increased awareness of the nutritional value of food is the result. Now it’s time for an overhaul. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to change the label to reflect make them more useable for consumers. The new proposed rule for Nutrition Facts labels is set to be released next year.
The Whole Label
While consumers may think they have a discriminating eye for Nutrition Facts labels, a study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests otherwise. Many consumers simply do not read the whole Nutrition Facts label. Consumers’ reports of reading the calories, fat content, etc. didn’t jive with an objective eye-tracking device in a simulated shopping experience. Data shows that participants focused more on the top of the label than the bottom and viewed the first five lines of nutrition information most. However, the results were inconsistent, showing only 9% observed the calorie counts of most products, an item at the top of the Nutrition Facts label. The study also found that centrally located labels are viewed more thoroughly than peripherally positioned labels. The findings call for the overhaul that is in the works.
Serving Size vs. Package Size
Food manufacturers’ use of serving sizes are reported to be part of the changes made. Currently serving sizes are determined by food manufacturers with guidelines from the FDA including the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed chart. Despite this regulation, many products that appear to be single serving packages display multiple servings per package. Some of the typical products that have misleading serving sizes are beverages, pizza, frozen meals, and ready-to-eat snack foods. The challenge in changing serving sizes however is in balancing the enormous increase in portion sizes in the last few decades and displaying reasonable serving sizes for staying within recommended caloric intake.
Percent Daily Values
Percent daily values are also set to be addressed with the changes. Currently, they are based on a daily intake of 2000 calories. However, the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reports the average American male consumes 2475 calories and 1833 for females. Considering that over half of Americans are overweight, the 2000-calorie recommendation for healthy adults does not hold. On the flip side, those consuming a restricted calorie diet need much less of a nutrient than a label may list. A food that has less than 5 percent daily value of a nutrient is considered low, while one that has 20 percent daily value or more is considered a high value. Because percent daily values vary greatly depending on caloric intake, they may not be used in the future label.
More Nutrient Information
In addition to the macronutrients - fat, protein, and carbohydrates, the current label lists sodium and cholesterol and the micronutrients - iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. To give consumers a bigger picture of the nutritional value of foods, an expansion of the nutrient list is on the horizon. As some manufacturers already list it, potassium and magnesium may be added as a requirement, as well as vitamins D, E, and K.
How would you improve the Nutrition Facts label? Do you find daily percentages helpful or confusing?