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Denise Leathers

Making healthy choices shouldn’t require a degree in nutrition.

As a veteran of the diet wars — and a mom trying to choose healthy foods for her family — I’ve spent countless hours at the supermarket trying to figure out what’s really good for me and what just sounds like it is. Take it from me, it is not as easy as it should be.


Although it’s voluntary, Facts Up Front labeling helps, and I applaud the industry organizations that spearheaded that effort more than a decade ago, even if their motives weren’t completely pure. However, simply stating the number of calories and the amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium per serving without any additional information only goes so far. For example, a product might contain 14 grams of sugar per serving. But since no daily value for sugar is listed, how is a consumer to know if that’s too much? (For the record, it is). And while manufacturers are permitted to call out two additional better-for-you nutrients, they aren’t required to also call out potentially harmful ingredients. As a result, said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the food industry’s efforts “bear more resemblance to marketing than to nutrition education.” Ouch.

But a 2022 survey by online research platform Attest suggests Lurie may be right. It found that only 9% of 2,000 U.S. consumers were able to identify the healthiest choice among six cereal bars using only Facts Up Front information. In fact, a higher percentage (13%) of respondents thought the least nutritious brand was the healthiest.

That’s why CSPI is asking the FDA to create a simple, standardized, evidenced-based and mandatory front-of-package nutrition labeling system for all packaged foods sold in the U.S. so consumers can tell at a glance if a product is high in added sugar, sodium or saturated fat. It’s not the first time the FDA has been asked to tackle the issue. But this time the agency is moving forward with consumer research to determine the most effective way to communicate nutritional information. According to a notice published in the Federal Register in late January, participants will be shown a wide variety of front-of-pack label formats and then asked to answer questions about the product. The designs run the gamut from Facts Up Front-style to a somewhat controversial traffic-light approach.

Although it remains to be seen which format is most effective, there’s plenty of real world evidence that “interpretive” front-of-packaging nutrition labeling can improve consumer understanding. Dozens of countries, including most recently Canada, have already adopted front-of-packaging nutritional labeling requirements to excellent results. For example, after a program was implemented in Chile in 2016, sugar consumption in the country plunged more than 10%. In addition, many food manufacturers reformulated their products to include smaller amounts of less desirable ingredients.


As a consumer, I wholeheartedly support the FDA’s efforts. However, I know manufacturers have reservations. I get it. Anytime the government passes yet-another unfunded mandate, people are wary. And try as they might, the FDA won’t be able to create a perfect system. But we can absolutely do better for consumers.

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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