FDA Proposes Major Changes to Nutrition Facts

The nutrition facts table will likely look different soon, thanks to huge changes proposed by the FDA and supported by the Obama administration. This is the most significant change to the label in over 20 years and it will impact consumer packaged goods companies everywhere. Here are two of the major changes being made:

1) Added sugars must be listed on the label; and

2) Estimated serving sizes must be more accurately reflected.

In one example of this change, the estimated serving size for ice cream would change from 4 servings in a pint to just 2, and the calorie listing on the label would double. The reason? People should understand how many calories are in what they are eating since serving size by law should be based on actual consumption, not some ideal level of consumption.


Why are these labeling changes important? Many people say they are long overdue in the U.S.  A lot has changed since the nutrition facts label was introduced back in 1993. People are eating larger serving sizes and the rates of obesity, heart disease and stroke remain high. That latest estimate from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that nearly 35% of Americans over 20 are obese.

Obesity Rate

“For 20 years consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices. To remain relevant, the FDA’s newly proposed Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”  -FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

The change is strongly supported by First Lady Michelle Obama as well. “Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family. “

Well, I have two kids of my own, and when they were very young I taught them how to read nutrition facts tables. My daughter was in 5th grade when she came home from school one day and said that in health class her teacher taught them how to read the nutrition facts table.  She said, “Mom you wouldn’t believe it – no one knew how to read the label except me.”  Seems to me that’s one of the first things you should teach kids in Health class.

So what’s different about the proposed nutrition facts table?  Here is a brief summary:

  • Calories are listed in larger bolder font.
  • Added sugars must be listed on the label. (Note: on average Americans eat 16% of their daily calories from added sugars – yikes).
  • Servings per package have been updated to be more realistic.
  • % of Daily Value (DV) measures are more prominent and on the left.
  • The amounts of potassium and Vitamin D would be required on the label. These are some nutrients the U.S. population is not getting enough of.  Vitamin D is important for strong bones and Potassium is beneficial in lowering blood pressure.  Interestingly enough, Vitamins A & C would no longer be required on the label, though they can be declared voluntarily.


So what do leading designers think of the FDA’s new nutrition label?  Tobias FrereJones is one of the world’s leading type designers. He teaches at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.  “It’s as stark and as dowdy as before, but that’s actually a good thing. It creates a blunt contrast with the surrounding package, so consumers can locate this label no matter what. That was a remarkable achievement the first time around, and this proposal does well to preserve it. The FDA never specified Helvetica, using it only as an example, but it was a good choice and it still is. Helvetica tastes like authority, like confirmed fact. We need to feel trust when we get a second opinion on our food.”


And Bonnie Siegler is a founder of design studio Eight and a Half, which has worked with everyone from the Criterion Collection to the Brooklyn Public Library to Late Night With Seth Meyers. “I think the scale adjustments make lots of sense. The Nutrition Facts headline used to be the largest single item, now the largest piece of type is the number of calories. That huge number is simply unavoidable now. I also like that the number of servings per container is much bigger. That small hidden number has always been a way to kid yourself into thinking you’re not overeating.”

Hopefully these newly proposed labels will be soon be approved. I think these new labels will be easier to read and I’m looking forward to seeing detailed information about not only fats, but sugars as well.



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