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The current food label (left) and the modified food label FDA proposed (right).

FDA proposes updates to nutrition labels

by Zara Zhuang
Feb 27, 2014

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday a proposal to update its Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods, to emphasize sugar content and calories and reflect changes in recommended serving sizes that match how much people actually eat.

“The elements (in the nutrition labels) are emphasized for consumers, in an easier-to-understand format,” said Theresa Eisenman, FDA spokeswoman. “More consumer attention is focused on these important elements — calories, for example. The proposal also suggests removing calories from fats because we now know that the type of fat matters more than the amount.”

The proposal calls for changes including:
• Displaying the calories per serving, serving sizes and Percent Daily Value more prominently;
• Including the amount of sugars added to the food product;
• Removing “calories from fat;”
• Presenting two columns for per serving and per package nutrition information for larger packages that some people may consume in one sitting;
• Declaring vitamin D and potassium values, nutrients in which some Americans are deficient, while making the listing of vitamins A and C values voluntary instead of mandatory.

The suggested updates are the “culmination of many years of work and previous comments,” Eisenman said, and are based on consensus reports, data from surveys such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.

“Research indicates that people are looking at nutrition labels,” she said, “and it does change their purchasing decisions and eating habits.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization for health, nutrition and well-being, mostly praised the FDA’s announcement in a press release. But the group urged improving certain other items, such as including the Daily Value for added sugars, stating the percent of grains that are whole grains, printing summary nutrition symbols on the front of food packages and reducing the Daily Value of sodium further to 1,500 mg. The FDA proposed a level of 2,300 mg.

Michael Jacobson, the center’s executive director, said: “While the FDA is off to a strong start, the agency must do more to ensure that these labels communicate better advice on sugar and salt."

How consumers will respond to the proposed changes remains to be seen. After being shown a sample of the proposed nutrition label, Christopher Smith, an employee at Walgreens, said it would not change his consumption habits. “But I can see how (the new design) will be helpful, especially for those who count their calories,” he said.

After today’s announcement, there will be a 90-day open comment period before the FDA conducts its review, modifies the proposed nutrition label guidelines and then issues a final rule. There is no specific timeline for when the final rule will be available, though industry is expected to be compliant within two years of it being issued, according to Eisenman.