Friday, October 21, 2011

Nutrition News: Front-of-Package Food Labeling

The American Dietetic Association supports a report released today by the Institute of Medicine calling for a standardized system for front-of-package food labeling that can be easily understood by most consumers. The report, “Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols,” was authored under a committee of food, nutrition, business and communications professionals, including members of the American Dietetic Association, and intends to aid consumers in making informed and healthful decisions when they shop.

“As more and more nutrition information is thrust upon consumers from credible and non-credible sources alike, this report is a great step in the right direction to helping Americans decipher the healthfulness of the foods they buy,” said registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association President Sylvia Escott-Stump. “Education of the public is our greatest tool in helping Americans lead healthier lives, and this proposed system is another means towards that end.”

The report, which recommends eliminating the current FOP labels that research suggested did not resonate with consumers, outlines the need for a “shift in strategy, a move away from systems that mostly provide nutrition information without clear guidance about its healthfulness, and toward one that encourages healthier food choices through simplicity, visual clarity, and the ability to convey meaning without written information.”
“We know that the numerous front-of-package labeling systems currently in use have not resonated with the public because of the variations from product to product and store to store. This new system is designed to provide clear, concise and consistent information across all products and stores,” Escott-Stump said. “Ensuring everyone, no matter their age, education level or background, knows how the system works will be a key step to its acceptance and effectiveness.”

According to ADA’s Nutrition and You: Trends 2011 public opinion survey, 67% of consumers rate diet and nutrition as “very important,” while 37% list food package labels as very credible sources of nutrition information.

Under the new system, all foods in grocery stores will be rated on a scale of zero to three nutritional “points” according to their saturated and trans-fats, sodium and added sugars. The rating will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and integrated with the Nutrition Facts panel, and will appear in a consistent location across all products.
Escott-Stump also emphasized that the proposed labeling system, while beneficial, is not a failsafe for Americans to lead healthier lives. “While the proposed system would help eliminate confusion among shoppers and provide them with more succinct nutrition information, it does not present the whole picture on how these foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “Many factors go into a person’s nutrient needs, including age, height, weight, gender, physical activity level or predisposition to various health conditions.”
Whether consumers will find this proposed FOP nutrition labeling system helpful remains to be seen, but it is no substitute for the individualized counseling, meal planning and nutrition expertise of a registered dietitian, Escott-Stump said.

“As the food and nutrition expert, the RD is specially qualified to empower consumers with the knowledge of how foods can fit into their lifestyle, not to mention provide the most nutritional quality,” she said.

The report will now be considered for implementation by the Food and Drug Administration.

Effective January 2012, the American Dietetic Association becomes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The American Dietetic Association is the world’slargest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed toimproving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics throughresearch, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association

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