The growing recognition of the nation’s obesity crisis has led to an array of diverse efforts aimed at increasing physical activity and promoting healthful eating, including changes in the formulation, packaging, labeling, and marketing of products and services that contribute to healthy lifestyle.
In particular, the use of symbols, logos, and icons to communicate nutritional information on the front of food labels has seen substantial growth. Some display straightforward facts about nutrient content, while others identify foods that are “better for you” using symbols. Frequently, they focus on calories, sugars, saturated fat or fat in general, and salt. However, the threshold amounts vary, and some are based on data analyses that are proprietary. Surveys show that product healthfulness is a major consideration for consumers in making food purchases. However, with no uniform system, some have raised concerns that the meaning of different rating systems may be confusing to consumers.
As a first step toward clearing up consumer confusion and in response to a congressional directive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to undertake a review of “front-of-package” nutrition rating systems and symbols. An IOM committee will begin by focusing on the nutrition criteria underlying the rating systems, and considering the purpose and overall merits of these types of programs. A report is expected in 2010.