Nutrition facts label will be changing

Mar 21, 2014

The familiar nutrition label you see on every food and drink you buy will be changing. This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen speak with Tracy Fox, president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants in Washington D.C.  Fox discusses the current nutrition label and what changes might be coming.

Lorraine Rapp: I wondered if you would talk about how effective these labels have been in helping consumers make more informed decisions? Overall has the program been effective?

Tracy Fox: Overall, I would say on balance, yes. 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.

Lorraine Rapp: Give us a brief overview of the different groups that are involved that have to come to a consensus about what percentages are recommended in our daily eating.

Fox: 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. 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.

Lorraine Rapp: Do you have insight into how they come to a consensus on even making the recommendations with basic vitamins?

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

Linda Lowen: Who determines the serving size and do they really reflect what Americans eat?

Fox: I think they don’t as much anymore. And that is one thing that I think many of us are looking forward to the Food and Drug Administration updating. But the actual serving size is based on reference amount commonly consumed. And it really is based on, at least 20 years ago, what was considered a serving size for consumers.  So 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.

Lorraine Rapp: Can you give us a sneak peak into what you think they’re looking at? What changes are going to be made that will be obvious to us as the consumers?

Fox: I think what we might be able to see, hopefully, is 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? I think what you also might see is a little more prominence of the calories. 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. I know there’s a lot of interest in breaking out the total sugars to include added sugars. So we might see some of that change as well. There may be a different set of nutrients that are required to be listed. 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. And I think that would really help consumers have a better picture of what they’re consuming.

More of this interview can be heard on Take Care, WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.