What front-of-package food labels should say
The world of nutrition and food policy sometimes seems like a big messy jumble of competing interests, contradictory science and warring fiefdoms. So it's awfully refreshing to see someone cut through the clutter and deliver a cogent and thoughtful message about how to help Americans eat more healthfully. That's what happened Wednesday morning when the Institute of Medicine issued its carefully considered report about front-of-package food labeling systems.
The IOM, which advises the federal government and other entities on health-related issues, took on the gargantuan task of reviewing all the disparate food-labeling systems proffered by various packaged-food manufacturers, grocery chains and other interested parties and determining, point by point, how well they work. Delivering health and nutrition messages to American consumers can be a daunting task, and the more players that have jumped on the food-labeling bandwagon, the more confusing it's become.
After also reviewing a wealth of science, the IOM committee determined which key nutrients should be included in the limited space of a front-of-package label, and which should not. They ended up choosing four: information about calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat content. These four, the committee agreed, are most directly related to the nation's major health woes -- obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers -- and are most commonly over-consumed. Other nutrients, such as fiber and added sugars, either lack enough science for the government to issue edicts as to their consumption or can probably be better addressed through other means, such as the Nutrition Facts panel or education efforts, the committee decided.
The committee's next task is to figure out what kind of system would work best and whether it makes sense for a single system to be administered by the FDA. Today's report was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| October 13, 2010; 12:17 PM ET
Categories: Health Policy, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity
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