A new report from the US Institute of Medicine says that food products need better nutritional content labels that clearly show fat, sodium and sugar content to help consumers make better diet choices.
It suggests a new nutrition label system, which would be visible on the front of food packaging, that uses a series of points, check marks or stars on a scale of zero to three, based on serving size. If key elements (sodium, fat, sugar) are balanced, the food gets a point. A healthy product could get a maximum of three points, while some foods or beverages may get zero points.
Industry insiders say the program is not perfect, because some food items, like diet soda, may get a high rating, meaning they contain satisfactory amounts of sugar, fat and sodium; however, the product could also have chemicals or artificial coloring, which are harder to signal with the system.
Scott Faber, Vice President of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which promotes and represents the world's food, beverage and consumer product companies, told the Washington Post that consumers are interested in receiving nutritional information in the most clear way possible: “What they don’t want are summary symbols that make judgments for them.”
Obesity Rates Have Doubled In 30 Years
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last 30 years the US obesity rate has doubled to 72 million people. About $147 billion (€106 billion) a year is spent on obesity-related health costs in the US.
The report panel’s leader Ellen Wartella, who is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, told Bloomberg: “Americans today have access to more information about nutrition than any previous generation, and yet the nation is facing a crisis of obesity and diet-related chronic disease.” She said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture should look into a "fundamental shift in strategy that moves beyond simply informing consumers about nutrition facts and encourages them to purchase healthier food and beverages.”
Since it has been trying to get a front-of-package labeling system in place for two years, the FDA co-sponsored the nutrition label study. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Washington Post that the FDA might not be able to put this rating system into practice, since it will likely take a few years to execute. “If the Obama administration departs next year,” Jacobson said, “kiss the whole effort goodbye.”
Key Statistics – Obesity in the US (source: National Center for Health Statistics, Institute of Medicine report)
- About one-third of US children aged between two and 19, and about 66% of adults are overweight or obese.
- Added fats and oils (34%), flour and cereal products (31%), and caloric sweeteners (9%) are the three largest contributors to the increased calorie intake.
- Between 1970 and 2008, daily per capita intake went up by 617 calories.
- The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) estimated that about 35% of Americans’ total calories come from, solid fats (saturated and transfats) and added sugars. The DGAC recommends that a maximum of 5%-15% of total calories should be obtained this way.