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FDA proposes update for nutrition labels


By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: February 27, 2014 - 4:30 pm ET
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing changes to packaged food and beverage nutrition panels for the first time in more than 20 years. Total calories and updated serving sizes that reflect the way people realistically eat and drink today would be better highlighted in the proposed new labels, according to the FDA.

Proposed changes include requiring that the amount of sugar added to a given food be listed, as well as the amounts of vitamin D and potassium. Vitamins A and C content would no longer be required listings.

The changes stop short of rating the overall healthiness of foods and beverages. Some countries use a “stoplight” system, rating foods as green if they are healthy and red if they are unhealthy. U.S. food and beverage makers had sought to short-circuit introducing that system here by advancing voluntary industry front-of-package nutrition labeling in recent years. Food processors are likely to vigorously comment on this latest proposal, especially its requirement to list added sugar.

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“For 20 years consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg in a news release. “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.”

Health professionals have voiced concerns over the increasing number of Americans who have developed chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes in the last two decades. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing an estimated seven out of 10 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other proposed labeling changes would include removing the “Calories from Fat” listing from nutrition panels while leaving information about the different types of fat, such as total, saturated and trans fats. Also proposed is the inclusion of “dual column” labels that indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calories, as well as nutrition information for larger packages.

“Eating healthy is a habit all Americans need to have, and the FDA's proposed new nutrition labels will help put that goal within reach,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association in a written statement. “By arming consumers with more knowledge about nutritional content, calories and serving sizes, this new labeling information takes an important step toward improving the health of all Americans.”

The proposed changes would affect all packaged foods with the exception of meat, poultry and processed egg products, according to the FDA. Those products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The move comes on the heels of a government study released Wednesday that found that the overall U.S. obesity rate remained unchanged from 2003 to 2012, despite a 43% drop in the obesity rate among children between the ages of two and five.

“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,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in a written release about the FDA's announcement. “So this is a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across the country.”

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson


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