(WASHINGTON-AFP) – Calories in bold print, added sugar amounts and realistic serving sizes may soon be portrayed on food labels aimed at fighting America’s obesity epidemic, First Lady Michelle Obama said Thursday.
No more would a serving of ice cream be described as a half cup, or a single packaged muffin be labeled as two servings, according to the proposed changes.
Instead, more than 700,000 products would undergo the most significant labeling revamp in two decades to help consumers make healthier choices and save billions in medical costs from chronic diseases that arise from poor eating.
“This will be the new norm in providing consumers with information about the food we buy and eat,” Obama said at a White House event. “So this is a huge deal.”
The final format of what the First Lady described as the “label of the future” has not been formally decided upon, through two draft versions were unveiled at the White House.
First, there is a 90-day comment period. After that, the changes will likely take two years or more to implement, administration officials said.
- How much is a serving? -
If approved, the calorie count would be printed in a larger size than the rest, and a new line would detail “added sugars” — not just total sugars.
The changes would also attempt to eliminate confusion about how many servings a container holds, and how many calories are in a serving.
Under the new proposal, if a soda is 20 ounces (0.6 liters), the calorie count on the label would reflect the amount in a 20 ounce soda.
Currently, the advertised calorie count is much lower, since it reflects just one serving, and in a 20 ounce soda there are 2.5 servings.
Single-packaged pastries, cookies and muffins also often say they contain two servings, which experts say can be misleading.
“You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into a grocery store, pick an item off the shelf, and tell whether it’s good for your family,” said Obama.
Labels would also include mandatory potassium and vitamin D amounts for the first time.
Calories from fat would be eliminated, since health experts understand more today than they did 20 years ago about good and bad fats, administration officials said.
For Obama, advocating healthy eating and exercise, particularly among young people, has been a centerpiece of her efforts. Thursday also marked the fourth anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign.
More than one third (35.7 percent) of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a trend that has remained steady among adults in recent years.
But new CDC data released this week showed, for the first time, a steep 43 percent drop in obesity among toddlers, signaling potential progress against the epidemic.
- High cost of obesity -
Some pushback over the labels is expected from the food industry, particularly regarding salt and sugar content.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry group, said it would work with the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of the process, but said any changes must “ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”
The nutrition facts label has only undergone one update in two decades, and that was to add a line about trans fat content in 2006.
“Our goal here is to design a label that is easier to read and one that consumers can understand,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
The labels could improve public health by reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes, which cost the United States around $150 billion a year, administration officials said.
“We realize the label alone won’t magically change how Americans eat,” but it aims to provide them with “the tools to be successful,” Hamburg said.
Consumer health groups welcomed the proposal, but some called on the FDA to go further by establishing recommended daily values for sugar and by lowering salt.
Ronald Tamler, clinical director of the diabetes center at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said it marked an important step toward helping Americans make smart choices.
“Hopefully, the days of declaring half a cookie as one serving — a common practice that can even fool nutrition experts — will soon be behind us.”