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US plans to revamp food labels

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1165 (Published 27 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1165
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to update the nutrition labels currently found on most prepared foods in the United States. These will be the first such changes in two decades.

“Since the nutrition facts label was introduced 20 years ago, the science and recommendations underlying the nutrition facts label has changed,” an FDA spokeswoman said. “For example, the initial nutritional facts label focused on fat in the diet. There is now a shift to focus on calories to help consumers construct healthy diets.”

Details of the proposed changes have not been released, but critics have been calling for simpler, easier-to-understand labels that provide more accurate information about energy, sugar, and fiber content and that are based on realistic serving sizes.

Current serving sizes, called the “reference amounts customarily consumed,” are based on dietary surveys from the 1970s and 1980s, but more recent data indicate that US residents now eat larger servings.

For example, the reference amount for soup is typically one cup or 8 fluid ounces (240 ml). But a 2010 survey conducted for the Center for Science in the Public Interest—a nutrition advocacy group based in Washington, DC—indicated that 50% of respondents consumed the entire contents of an 18.8 ounce can of soup whose label indicated that it contained “about 2 servings.”1

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1165

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