© 2021 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

What's the future for the nutrition facts label?

Dan Domme

The Food and Drug Administration is changing the nutrition facts label for the first time since the 1990s. The changes will update the current labels, which have serving sizes that seem too small to many Americans and no prominence placed on the calories.

This week on Take Care, Tracy Fox, president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants in Washington D.C., discusses the current nutrition facts label and how it may be upgraded.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Tracy Fox.

The process of changing the nutrition label is not quick and requires lots of research.  According to Fox, many groups voice opinions prior to big changes like this, but there are two main groups that carry out the process: The Institute of Medicine and the FDA.

“I would say first and foremost the Institute of Medicine is an entity that really is tasked and has been tasked over the years with coming up with what is recommended in terms of the nutrients that Americans consume,” Fox said. “So, that really does form the basis for what then FDA looks at in terms of coming up with the percentages that you see on the food label.”

Every decision of the process is a major one, even choosing the recommendations for basic vitamins. But Fox says that all the information on the nutrition label is heavily researched.

“For the IOM there’s a very strong, rigorous evidence base that they are basically required to use as their deliberations continue,” Fox said. “In fact, they really do have to look at research studies, peer reviewed research studies, et cetera.”

Fox says she thinks the information on the current label is due for an update, but she also says that the goal of nutrition labels has been successful.

“The program’s been effective in terms of doing what it’s intended to do, and that is to provide some basic information to consumers so they can ideally make informed choices,” Fox said.

But today some of the information may be misleading. According to Fox, serving size is calculated from the amount commonly consumed 20 years ago, which may not be so accurate now.

“Let’s relook at the serving sizes. What is considered a serving size? Is one cookie? Or should it be more realistically, three or four cookies?” Fox said. “That is an area that is in need of significant updating…And I think we’re hopeful that that will be part of what comes out of FDA’s proposal in terms of updating the food labels.”

As for the new label, Fox says in addition to changes to the serving size, she is hopeful for a few other modifications, including the calorie section being highlighted.

“I think what you also might see is a little more prominence of the calories,” Fox said. “Right now it’s not pretty bold. It’s just kind of listed along with the other nutrients. We might see that stand out a little bit more.”

Other changes Fox says could happen are a breaking out of total sugars to include added sugars, and a change in what nutrients are actually listed. Fox also says she is hoping for a change of layout for the label, which could make it easier for consumers to know what they’re getting.

“And, I don’t know, I also hope there is kind of a dual column approach. So what that would mean is that for one serving size you get one set of nutrition facts, for the entire packet, whether it’s a box of cereal or an entire package of cookies, you would see nutrition information for the entire package,” Fox said. “And I think that would really help consumers have a better picture of what they’re consuming.”