Label Lift

2 minute read

“I’ll have one serving size with a couple of grams of sugar, please.”

Chances are you’ve never spoken a sentence like that out loud, because to most people, it doesn’t make sense. Yet that’s the kind of lingo foodmakers have used for years to tell Americans about what they’re eating, via the nutrition-facts panel. Now, for the first time in a decade, the Food and Drug Administration is ready for a change.

After many rounds of internal debate–and hefty criticism from health groups–the FDA recently submitted a list of proposed improvements for approval by the White House. Since the nutrition-facts label was introduced in 1990, “the science and recommendations underlying it have changed,” says Juli Putnam, an FDA spokeswoman. Whereas studies show that there are good and bad fats, for example, the label lumps all fats together. And daily values for sodium are based on a 2,400-mg diet even though new research says those figures should be lower.

Although the FDA won’t say when the changes will take effect–it could be years–or what they will be, many nutrition experts have already chimed in with suggestions. But Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, warns that health advocates should temper their expectations. After all, food-processing companies spent over $28 million last year on lobbying efforts, some of which were aimed at the FDA.

Nonetheless, even a small tweak could pay big dividends. Now that 42% of working-age Americans are reading nutrition-facts labels (up from 34% in 2008), they could play a key part in combatting the obesity epidemic. “None of these are blockbuster changes,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “They’re steps.”

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