On May 20th, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration finalized the new Nutrition Facts label, which will be required for use on most packaged foods by July 26th, 2018. Overall, public health and nutrition professionals are pleased with the updates as the new labels should make it easier for consumers to make healthy, informed decisions about what they eat and will hopefully push food companies to create healthier products.
Healthy & Active Before 5 is happy to see these updates, and we hope that with the new labels parents of young children can determine at a glance whether a packaged food product is healthy for their child. Here are the four changes that we think will most benefit families with young children:
- Design and type-size changes —the information for “calories” and “serving size,” will be more prominent. Caloric value is one of the most important pieces of information on the label, so it only makes sense to make that text large and noticeable. People often don’t realize when a package contains more than one serving, and thus they end up consuming two or three times more calories than they realize. The larger, bolded “serving size” line should prevent this, as will the next two items in this list:
- Updated serving sizes—serving sizes are now required to more closely reflect the amounts of food that people are actually eating. For example, both 12 oz. and 20 oz. bottles of soda must be labeled as one serving since most people typically consume an entire bottle, no matter its size, in one sitting.
- “Per serving” and “per package” information (not pictured above) —certain multi-serving food products that could be consumed in one sitting will be required to provide calorie and nutrition information for both an individual serving and the entire package. For example, a 3-ounce bag of chips might contain two servings, but many people will eat the entire package in one sitting. With the new dual-column labels, people will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat the entire package at one time.
- Addition of added sugars —all food labels must declare the number of grams and a percent daily value (%DV) for added sugars. This is a fantastic change, as it is difficult to meet daily nutrient needs without consuming too many calories if one consumes a lot of added sugars. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises limiting consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day. This recommendation is difficult to follow using current food labels, as added sugars were not distinguished from naturally occurring sugars. With this update, parents can tell right away that one bottle of soda or juice is unhealthy for their child. What would be even better is if food companies stopped producing foods that exceed that daily recommended amount of added sugar altogether!
These new labels are a great step in a healthy direction, and will hopefully make choosing what food to eat a simpler, clearer process. Even better than increased consumer awareness will be the pressure placed on the food industry to reformulate their products to contain fewer added sugars and be healthier overall. This would improve the food environment for everyone, children included, and place less of the responsibility on consumers to navigate the preponderance of unhealthy products that we currently face.
For a full run-down of the updated label requirements, check out the FDA’s page on Changes to the Nutrition Label.