FDA Modifies the U.S. Nutrition Facts Label to Reflect the Associations Between Diet and Chronic Diseases

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name:

Final Rule: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label (Docket No. FDA-2012-N-1210)

Final Rule: Serving Sizes of Foods Thats Can Reasonably Be Consumed At One Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments (Docket No. FDA-2004-N-0258)

Location:

United States

Population: 326,766,748 (Worldometers, 2018)

Overview:

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the new Nutrition Facts Label to more accurately reflect up-to-date scientific research and the links between diet and chronic diseases. The updated format is designed to draw increased attention to calories, serving size, added sugars and other important elements that will help consumers make healthier and more informed food choices.

Progress to date:

On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods.

On May 27, 2016 the FDA finalized two rules, the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts Label rule and the Serving Size rule, for manufacturers to follow.

Initially the compliance date for the two rules was set for July 26, 2018. However, after careful consideration, the FDA decided that additional time would be necessary to guide manufacturers during this transition, and extended the compliance dates for the two rules from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will be given an extra year to comply–until January 1, 2021.

Program/Policy Initiated:

January 1, 2020 / January 1, 2021

Food policy category: Diet & Nutrition

Program goals:

To make it easier for individuals to make more informed choices about the foods they purchase and consume

How it works:

The new Nutrition Facts Label considers information derived from scientific evidence, public comments, citizen petitions, survey data and findings from consumer studies.

Major changes to the Nutrition Facts Label include:

(1) keeping the traditional look of the label but highlighting important facts by increasing the font size for “calories”, “servings per container”, and “serving size,” along with bolding “calories” and “serving size”

(2) manufacturers must declare the actual amount, in addition to percent Daily Value, of important vitamins including vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium

(3) altering the footnote to better explain what percent Daily Value means (e.g. “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving size of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”)

(4) breaking down “sugars” into “total sugars” and “added sugars,” which is consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which that recommend that Americans limit total daily calories from added sugar to less than 10 percent

(5) altering the list of required vitamins. Vitamin D and potassium are added to the new label; calcium and iron will continue to be required, and vitamins A and C are not longer required

(6) removing “Calories from Fat” because research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will remain on the label

(7) updating daily values for sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D to be consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines

(8) updating serving sizes to reflect the amounts of food and beverages individuals are actually eating or drinking rather than how much they should be eating or drinking

(9) for packages that are between one and two servings, the calories and nutrients must be labeled as one serving

(10) for products that are larger than a single serving but could be consumed in one or multiple sittings, manufacturers will provide “dual column” labels to indicate the number  of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and a “per package” basis so that consumers can more easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package in one sitting

Why it is important:

The current label is more than 20 years old. Therefore, changes are necessary in order for individuals to have access to more recent and accurate nutrition information about the foods and drinks they are consuming.

With expert groups such as the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association recommending a decrease in the intake of added sugars, along with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans supporting a reduction in caloric intake from added sugars (less than 10% of total daily caloric intake), the new Nutrition Facts Label better helps consumers identify the quantity of added sugars they are consuming so that they can, if necessary make alterations for the improvement of their health.

The alterations in vitamins required on the new label more accurately represent current scientific information. Vitamin D (which plays an important role in bone health) and potassium (which helps to lower blood pressure) are nutrients Americans aren’t getting enough of, and, when lacking, they are associated with increased risk of chronic disease. Vitamin A and C are no longer required on the new label because deficiencies of these vitamins are now rare in the general population.

Evaluation:

A study was conducted in 2015 to determine whether the proposed FDA Nutrition Facts Label changes will allow consumers to make more informed decisions on what they are purchasing and promote healthier dietary choices. The study randomly assigned 155 young adults to view products with the old versus the new Nutrition Facts Label, and analyzed purchase intentions (by asking if the participant would purchase the food) and attention to the new labels (as measured with a high-speed eye-tracking camera). Attention to individual components of the new label, such as the bolded calories and the addition of “added sugars,” were also analyzed to assess the impact of each proposed modification. Results from the study suggested that the modified label did not elicit more visual attention or lead to more healthful purchases when compared to the old labels.

However, another study conducted in 2017 evaluated the responsiveness of college students to key nutritional information presented on the old and new Nutrition Facts Label, and assessed the effect of the labels on consumer nutritional comprehension and consumption of foods. The study randomly assigned 673 undergraduate students to either a control group (the old label), or one of three treatment groups: the new standard label, the new dual column label, and a single-serving label. Outcomes of interest included total time spent to identify information on each label, purchasing intention after viewing the label and the anticipated level of guilt with consumption. Results found that the students preferred the new labels over the old labels. The single-serving label was found to be the most effective because, compared to the other labels,  students spent the least amount of time identifying the information and were least likely to purchase the product because they experienced the highest level of anticipated guilt upon consumption.

Further evaluation will be necessary after the two new rules are officially implemented. The FDA has not yet determined when such evaluation will occur.

Learn more:

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/labelingnutrition/ucm511646.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm

Point of Contact:

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Food and Drug Administration

5100 Paint Branch Pkwy

College Park, MD 20740

E: [email protected]

T: 240-402-5429

Similar practices:

On July 1, 2016, in an effort to curb the obesity epidemic, Chile implemented the Front-Package “Excess Of” Labeling Law for all foods that exceed the limits of total energy, added sugars, sodium and/or saturated fat established by the Ministry of Health. Any food or drink that exceeds the established limits o have a black warning label printed on the front of the package to a alert consumers so that they can make appropriate health decisions. A label is required for each nutrient that exceed the threshold. Therefore, a single product could have up to four labels on the front of the package. Learn more.

References:

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1090198116651082?journalCode=hebc

https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(17)30904-8/fulltext

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/health/obesity-chile-sugar-regulations.html

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