Food labels get makeover to catch up with American eating habits

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Labels on packaged food and drinks that Americans have relied on for 20 years to help them choose meals and snacks will be modernized to reflect changes in eating habits that have accompanied epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

The new label design released Friday by the Food and Drug Administration includes serving sizes of foods and drinks, such as large, 20-ounce sodas, that more accurately reflect the amounts people consume. Calorie counts will be highlighted, making them easier to find, and manufacturers will have to differentiate between natural and added sugars, the agency said.

The government is playing catch-up with trends in eating habits and scientific research that have taken place since 1993, when food labels became standard. More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, almost 79 million people, and about 29 million people have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FDA first proposed the update in 2014.

"This is not about telling people what they should eat," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a blog post. "It's about making sure that they know what they're eating. With that knowledge, they can make more healthful choices."

Other changes in nutrition labels:

• A footnote explaining that "daily value" means "how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice."

• Sugar content will be compared to recommended daily limits.

• A reduction in the daily recommended value of sodium, or salt, from 2,400 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams. The American Heart Association advocated for a decrease to 1,500 milligrams, but the FDA said in the regulation there isn't enough evidence to support such a drastic reduction.

• Large sodas, such as a 20-ounce Coca-Cola, that fall between one and two serving sizes will be listed as one serving, which is how people usually consume them.

• For multi-serving products that could potentially be consumed in one sitting, the label will include both "per serving" and "per package" calorie and nutrition information.

• "Calories from fat" will be removed because the type of fat is more important than the amount.

Most food manufacturers will be required to display the new label by July 26, 2018, FDA said. Those with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.

"This update is timely as diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts panel was first introduced," Leon Bruner, chief science officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.


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