It’s an American classic, an image worthy of Norman Rockwell: curling up with a pint of ice cream and a spoon. When people do this, they are generally not in a label-reading mood. If they were, the label might give them a shock. A single serving is half a cup, containing 120 to 270 calories. A pint contains four servings. Do not do the math.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to make portion control clearer by revising the nutrition facts label on packaged food. Standards for the nutrition facts have not been updated for 20 years, and it shows with unrealistic, perhaps deceptive, serving sizes.
The FDA proposes to phase in new labels that reflect what people actually do eat, not what they should eat, according to a White House announcement. Portion sizes have grown along with American waistlines since 1994. Understanding the actual calorie counts in foods is meant to help people make informed choices.
For example, according to the FDA, a 20-ounce soda would now have to be prominently labeled with the total calories in the bottle, since people customarily drink all of a soda in one sitting.
“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” said first lady Michelle Obama, announcing the changes at the White House, Feb. 27. She described a person standing in a grocery store aisle and asking, “How on Earth could this teeny little package contain five whole servings?” The proposed labels won’t put people in that situation.
“So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country,” said Mrs. Obama.
Kathleen Sebelius, head of Health and Human Services, joined Obama at the announcement. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover weight management counseling and interventions to treat obesity.
Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, stated, “To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.”
Full Package Calorie Counts
Labels will be redesigned to show the calorie count of a full package side by side with the calorie count of a typical (large) serving. Calories from fat will not be shown, because the latest understanding is that fat type is more important overall fat content. Some fats, such as olive oil, are good, and some, such as trans fat, are not good.
Vitamin D and potassium will be listed on labels, since they are vital nutrients, according to the FDA.
The public has 90 days to comment on the proposals and they will then be implemented gradually.