Health Policy

Nutrition Labeling: Time for Change is Now

The Nutrition Facts Panel

The nutrition facts panel is a sorely underused bevy of information for consumers.  It is something that I regularly counsel clients on how to use as a tool and how to apply their individual needs to the information on the panel to make balanced decisions at the point of purchase.  It can be overwhelming to apply at first, but hopefully with some changes to make the label a bit easier to understand, the habit of using labels to impact consumer decision-making will become more routine.

Check out the press release from the FDA regarding the changes: FDA proposes updates to nutrition facts label on food packages 

What's Changing?

  • Serving Sizes and Calories are going to be more reflective of what people are actually eating and more prominently displayed
  • Added Sugars are going to be added to the label under the Sugars (under Carbohydrates) to clearly identify sugars that are not naturally occurring
  • Vitamins A and C are out, Vitamin D and Potassium is in as there are rarely deficiencies in the former, and the latter play larger roles in the development of chronic disease

Other Ideas?

First of all, the comment period is open right now regarding the proposed changes.  If you are interested in making a comment (I made mine!) please visit the following sites:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (yes, love them!) has been on the forefront of this issue for years now and had come up with an interesting proposal regarding the changes.  See page 10 of this report for the best visual and explanation.  Personally, I prefer their changes to the current changes proposed by the FDA, but I understand that that would require a huge overhaul.  Not only is the FDA careful to not make major changes for fear of further confusing consumers, but many manufacturers are very resistant to these changes.

I honestly feel that the big change that is missing is requiring all sources of sugars to be listed together in the ingredients list to open up consumers eyes to just how haphazardly and insidiously processed sugars are added into the food supply.  I feel that adding them to the label as added sugars is a step, but unfortunately I'd bet we're going to find food manufacturers going the 'route of trans fats' and keeping the limits per serving just low enough to be able to label them as 0g.  There is also no reference for the consumer, so listen up!  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams daily for women and 36 grams daily for men.

How Ethical is Marketing Food to Children?

In keeping with my recent favor of wanting to understand the obesity epidemic as it relates to the world of children, I decided to watch this TED talk by Anna Lappe.  With food companies spending $2 billion annually on marketing food to children, it is frightening to hear about the breadth and depth of messaging that the food industry is able to exert.

The obesity epidemic continues to grow here in the US, and public policy is slowly catching up to this world of food marketing.  As a huge proponent of educated decision-making and utilizing policy to minimize our obesogenic environment, I found this talk quite interesting.  What do you think about Anna's message?  What is your response to the marketing of food to children?

[To the food industry] My children, all of our children, are none of your business. - Anna Lappe

GMO Labeling: Making History

What is GMO?Photo courtesy of csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood

Genetically Modified Organisms are anything that is grown using genetic engineering technology.   Genetic engineering means that these products have been modified by scientists to have greater incidence of a specific trait or outcome.  Genetic engineering is more accurate and faster than traditional breeding, but many questions are raised regarding health benefits (or lack thereof), unintended consequences, ecological impact, and intellectual property law.  For example, there are strains of tomatoes that are genetically modified to not ripen as quickly so that they last longer for consumers.  

The FDA reports that there are currently about 45 genetically modified plant varieties in the marketplace.  For more information and interesting statistics please see the Biotechnology section of the USDA Economic Research Service.

A Good Day for Connecticut

Consumers are becoming more informed regarding what GMOs are, and want to have this information available to them while grocery shopping.  Connecticut just became the first state to pass GMO labeling laws (with a unanimous vote in the Senate and 134-3 vote in the House in favor!).  The language in this bill will allow consumers in CT to have greater transparency and make informed decisions.  It does however require four states (at least one of which bordering, ahem) to pass similar legislation.  

It was written this way so that local small farms and businesses were shielded from being at a competitive disadvantage.  I hope that the passing of this bill helps drive momentum for consumer advocacy across the country.  This is soundly written legislation that I am proud to say was driven by the consumer pushing for their own beliefs of full disclosure.

Take Home Message

We'll have to explore the pros and cons of GMOs in another blog post because there's so much more that can be said!  When I was reading some of my old blogs to see if I have discussed GMOs in the past, I came across a blog I had written four years ago now, "What does organic really mean?".   It's funny, I ended that blog four years ago with the same sentiment I planned to write tonight: 

The ultimate goal in this country surrounding food and nutrition isn't necessarily that all consumers make the same food decisions (organic vs. non-organic, fast food vs. slow food) or even that they always make healthy decisions, but rather that they make informed decisions.