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January 24, 2013
WASHINGTON Most of us are capable of taking down an entire muffin in the morning. So does a label specifying calories and other nutritional information for two-and-a-half servings really educate those of us who struggled in school with arithmetic?
That is debatable, leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to research more effective ways to label food in the growing fight to improve diets and reduce waistlines. It's been 20 years since the Nutrition Facts label was introduced, enlightening consumers on such tidbits as serving size, the number of servings in a package and the amount of calories per serving.
But research has shown many consumers are lousy at math, miscalculating the number of calories and the nutritional content of products that have two or more servings per container because the figures wrongly assume we won't devour that bag of chips in one gluttonous session.
Now, following an online study with more than 9,000 participants who were at least 18-years-old, FDA researchers have declared two changes on labels could help consumers understand what the information actually means. Researchers found participants could more accurately assess the number of calories per serving and in the entire package when the labels either disclosed nutritional details for the entire container or featured a dual-column that revealed single serving and total package nutrition information.
"This research is just one step in understanding how some potential food label modifications might help consumers make better decisions. Ideally, we would like to see how these labels perform in a more realistic setting, such as in a grocery store, with actual packaged foods as opposed to large labels on a computer screen," said Serena C. Lo of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement. "The Nutrition Facts label is only one tool that can help consumers make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices, but it is a valuable tool so it's important to continue exploring ways to support effective use of the label for these purposes."
In the study that is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, participants evaluated nine modified Nutrition Facts labels and the current label format for four fake products, two frozen meals and two bags of chips. Researchers also analyzed whether changes in formatting, such as increasing font size for the declaration of "Calories", would help consumers more accurately detect the amount of calories, fat and other nutrients in a package.
In 1993, FDA issued a rule on the Nutrition Facts label and labels appeared the following year. Other than requiring the amount of trans fat to be listed, the Nutrition Facts label hasn't been updated in 20 years, Amy M. Lando of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in an interview that is broadcast online.
"FDA is planning to propose updates to the Nutrition Facts label," she said in the interview. "These proposed changes will incorporate the most recent nutrition and public health research and improve how nutrition information is presented to consumers. FDA will seek public input on the proposed changes."
Researchers believe the findings mean changes to the Nutrition Facts label could help consumers make healthier choices and obtain a better understanding of the nutrients they are eating. If changes take effect, Americans could soon have one less reason to gorge on a bag of chips.
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