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Food Nutrition Labels Must Be Made Simpler, Experts Say
Date:10/20/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. agencies should revamp the labels on the front of food and beverage packages to make it as simple as possible for consumers to figure out how nutritious a product really is, a new Institute of Medicine report concludes.

"There are a lot of different [rating] systems out there," said Ellen Wartella, chair of the IOM committee that wrote the report, and director of the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University. "But no one system has all the features we think are most helpful. Our goal is to say no one has to be a nutrition scientist to discern whether a packaged food is healthy or not healthy."

"We want something that's readily identifiable, easily understood and that cues the consumer that this is a healthy product," Wartella added.

The report suggests creating a rating system that uses symbols to convey calorie counts by serving size, and a point system that tells consumers whether the levels of saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar in the products are more or less healthy than recommended.

Front-package labels have grown in popularity over the last decade, but because there are so many different nutrition symbols and rating systems, many shoppers have just become confused, Wartella said.

The IOM committee recommends that front packaging labels be standardized and, at the same time, motivate food and beverage companies to reformulate products to be healthier and get food stores to prominently display products that meet healthier standards.

The committee's concept is for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop and test labels that are visual and easy to understand. The idea is that government food labels can serve the same purpose as the government's Energy Star program, which rates appliances by their energy efficiency.

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