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New "Front of Package" Food Labels: Will They Make a Difference?

Jul 15, 2014
Early in 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute will be placing nutrition information on the front of packages with a new food labeling system.  This info will be presented in a fact-based, simple and easy to use format. This new labeling system is meant to make it easier for the busy consumer to make informed decisions when they are shopping for food.

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Although all the details of these new "front of package" labels have not been solidified, a report out this month by the Institute of Medicine, called for the labels to show calories, saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium, nutrients that are related to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. For now, the back and side panels of nutritional products will remain the same.

Current labels often include beneficial aspects of packaged foods, like vitamins or fiber content, while ignoring other nutrients that can be harmful, like a high sugar or sodium content. Many different brands of bread will highlight, "high fiber" yet in some, I can count five different types of added sugar under "ingredients."

Another current issue with labeling is placing the importance on the positive ingredients tends to encourage food companies to fortify foods unnecessarily with nutrients, to score better in the labeling system.

It is questionable whether the food industry will embrace a system that focuses on nutrients that most people want to avoid. The nutrition information that is on labels today is intended to help sell products.  After all, these companies want to make money, don't they? But then again, I've seen commercials where the first 15 seconds describes the "wonder drug" that will fix or cure, then 45 seconds of how the drug could harm you. People still take it.  Another example is the Surgeon General's warning on tobacco products. It clearly states that cigarettes are harmful to your health, yet many will smoke.

Another consideration is whether shoppers will ignore the labels anyway. When restaurants began including the calories on their menus, many people simply did not want to know what the calorie amount was in their foods and didn't even look! Watching restaurant patrons do this and hearing clients tell me that their family and friends don't even want to know, suggests that no matter how the labels present nutritional information, many will eat what they want.

The Food and Drug Administration hopes that the industry will develop a label that aids in consumer understanding and helps parents and other shoppers identify and choose products that contribute to a healthy diet.

I believe that the current label can be confusing to most and something more simple and educational may be helpful.  I am skeptical as to how highlighting the harmful ingredients will be perceived by the food manufacturers and consumer. Regardless of whether this new label will be successful "taking a bite" out of obesity and other life threatening illnesses, bringing up the public's awareness is part of a necessary solution for us to thrive as a healthy society.  There is so much work to be done.

Sandra Blackie has 27 years of experience in the Health & Fitness industry. She has a B.A. in Recreation & Leisure Studies, a major in Sociology, and graduated with distinction, from Concordia University in Montreal. Sandra is a certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist. Her certifications include a) the Advanced Personal Training certificate from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (A.F.A.A.), b) the Primary Sports Nutritionist certification from the National Association of Sports Medicine (N.A.S.N.) and c) is AED / CPR certified. Sandra is a retired I.F.B.B. Professional Bodybuilder who has competed in the very prestigious Ms. Olympia three times, in the 1990s. She has written for various fitness and bodybuilding publications since the 1990s, is the author of her own educational materials and has recently created an HD quality DVD entitled, "Feel the Freedom of Fitness: 10 Steps to Living Lean & Serene". Sandra's formal education, years of experience, and passion for fitness, gives her great insight into helping others. Allow her to touch your life! For more information, please visit her website at www.freedomoffitness.com or email her at sandra@freedomoffitness.com.


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