Sunday, October 23, 2011

Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating System: Increasing Confusion in Already Confused Consumers?

On Friday, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released Phase II of their recommendations for Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling (FOP). Essentially, the IOM want to put a universal rating of stars on the front of each grocery store item (produce included!) according to the level of calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated and trans fats the product contains. Products can "earn" a total of 3 stars if they fit the nutrient criteria. However, if a product, such as a cola drink, exceeds the requirements by a certain amount, they will not be granted stars in the areas that it does pass.

Is this new FOP a good idea? 

Will this not confuse already confused consumers who are trying to figure out the many different FOP labeling offered by different companies? Sensible Solutions, Heart Check, Blue Menu, etc. have dominated the FOP in grocery stores and the grocery store shelves appear to be a endless ocean of nutrition and health claims. There has been such a great push, perhaps it has even blossomed in a fad, to make it easier for consumers to make better food choices, but very little effort put forth by these companies (in respect to the intensive marketing campaigns involving their own FOP nutrition labels) to educate on the basics of healthy eating. Why not educate consumers on who to properly read nutrition labels? They are already present on the packages of foods - except those that do not come in packages, like fruits and vegetables! With that said, I'm not even confident that if the money spent on these type of gimmicks, as good in intentions as they may be, were put into education of the already existing labels or even into a basic how-to-eat-healthy guide, that it would reach more people. Consumers, for a large part, know that items such as Pork Rinds are unhealthy, but people are still buying them. The question then begs to be asked, "will another package label actual bring about behavior change?" Should companies be forced to instead promote campaigns already in existence such as Canada's Food Guide and or My Plate put out by the USDA? Although I agree that it may be out of the scope of feasibility to further promote these government health documents on the population, and looking at the front of a food package is easier - how much of the original document put forth by the IOM will actually come into fruition? My guess is that a companies will do the bare minimum to follow the guidelines, and do their best to find loopholes (as I've learned with the School Food and Nutrition Policy, people are more apt to search for loopholes than abide by recommendations, perhaps as a way of rebelling against them).

My recommendations as a Dietetic Intern are as follows:
  •  Push nutrition education! Start educating people about healthy eating, and this should start when they are young, when good habits can be easily formed. 
  • Governments need to start making harsher regulations for what can be passed off as "food". Artificial fruit snacks and jube jubes are, in my opinion, not food as the only semblance to food on their nutrition label is the corn found in the high fructose corn syrup.
 Le sigh.

You can read more about the FOP nutrition labeling at the ScienceDaily website.

1 comment:

  1. And I'd go looking for any studies that have proven the effectiveness of any of these rating systems (even nutrition labelling). You might be surprised by what you (don't) find.