FDA Proposes Improvements to Nutrition Labels on Food

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing changes to the Nutrition Facts labels that are stamped on most packaged foods. The changes are intended to make it easier for consumers to make healthy food choices. Among the improvements—the calorie and sugar content will be easier to read and understand, and serving sizes will reflect how much people typically eat and be printed in larger type.

This will be the first time that a major update has been proposed to the labels since 1993 when they were first required for most packaged food, beverages, and supplements. The update is based on advances in science that have led to a better understanding of nutrition, and a better understanding of ways to communicate nutrition information to the public.

For instance, the labels will now provide information on the amount of added sugar (as opposed to naturally occurring sugar) in foods. FDA says Americans get about 16% of their calories from added sugars, and nutrition guidelines (including those of the American Cancer Society) recommend limiting added sugar.

Michael Landa, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says the new labels are meant to help address the growing problem of obesity and the chronic diseases it can cause. Rates of overweight and obesity have increased significantly among children and adults in the US since the 1990s. The high rates of obesity are increasing the risk for diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) said, “Evidence shows that up to one-third of all cancer deaths are attributable to poor diet, physical inactivity, and overweight and obesity. The proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label are essential for creating an environment that supports nutritious food and beverage choices that are critical to improving overall health and reducing the risk of obesity and cancer.”

New food labels are not expected to show up at the grocery store any time soon. There will be a 90-day period for public comment on the proposed changes, after which the FDA will review the feedback and make modifications if necessary. If and when the new rule is issued, the FDA will give companies 2 years to change the labels on their packaging.

Making healthy food choices is one of the most important things people can do (after quitting smoking) to help reduce the risk of developing cancer during their lifetime. The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention recommend staying at a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, and eating a healthy diet with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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