The FDA’s nutrition label proposal

03.24.14 |

Nutrition labels have long been a challenge for consumers, especially for those trying to create health

The labels can be confusing, and listings like calories per “serving” can be outright misleading.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would be proposing major changes to nutrition labels to make the label more user friendly, more accurate based on what we have learned about nutrition over the last few decades, and better suited for combating obesity levels in the United States.

Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, told the New York Times, “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”

The article goes on to explain that another important part of the proposal is to clearly distinguish when sugars are added to food and to detail their amount. By highlighting these sugars, the FDA hopes to help slow-rising rates of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

A step in the right direction

It’s important to note that these changes are not yet official. However, with the Obama administration promoting the proposal during a Let’s Move event, Michelle Obama’s campaign that aims to reduce obesity rates in America, we might see these labels come to fruition.

Revising our approach to nutrition labels is a step in the right direction. It makes it easier for the average American to decide what to eat and consequently make more informed decisions about their health. We should remember, however, that this is not a magic bullet that will by itself make you healthier or make Americans healthier in general. It certainly helps, and the scope of the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative suggests that the Obama administration does not see it as a magic bullet either.

No singular cause

Obesity is a complex problem that lacks a singular cause. Ultimately, obesity is rising because people are eating more and exercising less, but why we are eating more and exercising less is the greater issue. Part of the problem is a lack of nutritional knowledge, which the revised labels will help to correct, but once we have new labels, consumers will still have to choose between healthy food and unhealthy food.

And where will they learn about nutrition? Mrs. Obama is working to bring healthier foods and health education into public schools, but there is still much work to be done. Children need to learn about how to create health, and parents need to learn as well so that they can be healthy role models for their families. For parents though, learning about nutrition is not easy with the torrent of fad diets and misinformation circulating around the Internet.
This is part of the reason why I wrote the Habits of Health, to provide a no-nonsense explanation of healthy eating and to offer simple tools to make shopping for that food easier. But food is only part of the story when it comes to health.

Just as modern technology has complicated what we eat—mixing processed, manufactured, and artificially enhanced foods into what was once an all-organic human diet—technology has made it more difficult to exercise and has instilled a slew of Habits of Disease in our society. We spend much of our lives sitting at desks or in front of televisions. We associate snacks and treats with virtually every holiday and special occasion. Marketing promotes unhealthy foods to children and adults alike at every turn. And our hectic lives have fostered record levels of stress and anxiety.

Revising nutrition labels is an important step, but it’s only one part of the journey. We need to keep working together to grow the momentum of the Optimal Health movement.