Planning Healthy Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

When the Nutrition Facts Label was created in 1993, it was revolutionary. For the first time, consumers could read the nutrition information on a food package to know what was in it and that the information was held to government standards for consistency and accuracy. This rectangular box has since become one of the world’s most recognized graphics, with countries around the world adopting their own version.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.To continue the spirit and purpose of the Nutrition Facts Label, we are proposing important changes to bring it fully into the 21st century. A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Much more is known about food consumption and nutrition, the health of our population and the dietary choices that can help keep us healthy or make us vulnerable to an array of chronic diseases.

The changes that we’re proposing reflect that knowledge, based on an extensive examination of the latest public health trends and research on nutrition and disease, including obesity. There is a lot of information on FDA.gov about our plans, but I’d like to hit the highlights:

  • “Added sugars” would be listed on the label along with the current “Sugars” declaration (which includes both naturally occurring and added sugar). This alone is huge: The average American takes in many calories every day in sugars added during food production. Experts call these “empty calories” that often take the place of foods rich in nutrients.
  • Speaking of nutrients, listing the amount of Vitamin D and potassium – which many of us don’t get enough of – would be required. They would join calcium and iron as nutrients important to public health.
  • People generally eat differently today than they did 20 years ago. The serving size requirements would be updated to more accurately reflect what we’re actually eating. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people “should” be eating.
  • Certain packages that are typically eaten in one sitting would be required to be labeled as a single serving, which would mean you would know how many calories and nutrients you are consuming for the whole package. For example, a 20-ounce soft drink would be one serving under the proposal, not more. Certain larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings would be required to be labeled per serving and per package.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • The format would be modernized. Calories and serving sizes would be displayed more prominently in larger, bold type. The %DV (daily value) would be moved to the left, so that you can immediately put a nutrient in the context of your daily dietary needs.

I’ve been asked if we’re proposing these changes because an increasing number of people in this country, including children, are obese and at risk of serious diseases tied to food consumption.

The answer is both no – and yes.

No, because the Nutrition Facts Label is for everyone. FDA does not regulate diets, but we can make sure that you know exactly what you’re eating. Having more information can enable you to make an educated decision about the foods you eat and serve your family.

Yes, because we know that too many people’s health is being compromised by the food they eat. This includes those at risk for serious disease like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and obesity and all of us to wanting to have healthy diets can tell at a glance what is in a particular food.

As a consumer myself, I would find a Nutrition Facts Label that reflects the current science very helpful when making food choices for myself and my family. These changes should make it easier than ever to judge a food by its label.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

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