Research roundup–food labels

Because the government’s MyPlate wasn’t enough, the Institute of Medicine released a report today, urging the Food and Drug Administration to add new labels to packaged food. Designed to be on the front of food packaging, the labels wouldn’t replace the detailed Nutrition Facts already on the back or side. Rather, they would provide consumers with the most important health information, including calories per serving, serving size and some kind of symbol to rate the food on fat, sodium and added sugar.

Illustration: Institute of Medicine

Apparently the idea is to make it easier for harried, hurried shoppers to see at a glance, what foods constitute healthy choices. The AP article I read likened it to the Energy Star system, which helps consumers buy more efficient appliances.

It’s a nice idea. Having crucial nutrition information front and center could be very helpful. Sort of in-your-face, no way to hide from the 850 calories in that frozen chicken pot pie. And I certainly think serving size information needs be more realistic. Label a serving as the size you know people are going to consume. No one is going to drink half a bottle of Snapple and save the rest for another day. But to rate it just doesn’t make sense to me. Everyone is going to have a different rating threshold–a level that feels acceptable to them. And what’s the cut-off point of good stars versus bad stars? Obviously three is good. But two? Eh. One? Not good?

I know the idea is to make things easier, but it just seems to add more ambiguity to an already cluttered system.

I thought this article made a great point regarding confusion over ratings. The author, Dr. David Katz, wonders how such a labeling system would deal with the conundrum that is diet soda. Or how it would rate such technically high-fat, yet extremely healthy foods like avocado and walnuts?

Also, a majority of the articles I read on the topic emphasized the idea that this system would help speed up shopping. But should that really be our goal? With a constantly growing national girth, it doesn’t seem like our “fast” food system is working. I’m all for demystifying nutrition information, and educating the public on how to make healthy choices. But maybe we should also encourage a slow-down in the choosing and eating of our meals. After all, it’s one of the most important things we do for our bodies. Isn’t it worth a little more of our time?

What do you think? Would you find the suggested labels helpful? Would they change your shopping habits? Do you have an Energy Star appliance that you’re super excited about?

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3 thoughts on “Research roundup–food labels

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