Nutrition Facts Labels Getting First Makeover In Twenty Years… Eventually

Pick up any package of food at the grocery store, turn it around, and there it is: the ubiquitous, standardized nutrition label. It’s second nature at this point: we all know exactly what it looks like, and what we can expect to find listed on it.

That’s because the label hasn’t had any significant changes in twenty years. Meanwhile, the priorities of consumers, and the understanding of the science behind nutrition, have both changed a great deal. The FDA agrees: it’s time for a makeover.

The Minneapolis StarTribune reports on some of the potential changes consumers might see to the labels. Although for some of us the early 1990s may not feel quite as long ago as they really were, a great deal has changed in the science and awareness of nutrition since then.

For example: remember the four food groups? They went out of vogue more than two decades ago, and since then the USDA’s dietary guidelines have gone from groups, to the first food pyramid, to the second food pyramid (MyPyramid), and now we’re back to groups (five, now) on “MyPlate.”

In the 90s, the dietary craze was all about making sure products were low-fat or fat-free. Now, consumers prefer to separate out fats by type (trans-fat labeling was added to the label in 2006) and bring back the focus to calorie content.

Health advocates suggested a range of changes that would make the labels more useful to consumers, including:

  • Adding or changing the units of measurement: teaspoons mean more to most American consumers than grams do.
  • Making serving sizes make sense: when a clearly single-serve package makes claims “per serving,” but insists that a package contains 2.5 servings, that’s hard on consumers.
  • Making calorie content more prominent: the number of calories per serving should be big, clear, and easy to see.

A representative for the FDA told the StarTribune that the new label design has been in the works for a decade, and that they have sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House, but that there is no time estimate for when they might be released.

20 years old, FDA is remaking the nutrition facts panel on the backs of food packages [Minneapolis StarTribune]