The rates of obesity in the United States have dramatically increased to epidemic proportions, impinging on more than our good looks and athletic ability. Obesity is often associated with several health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis and asthma. Additionally, studies have shown that obesity results in great public health cost. Aptly stated, it is imperative to consumers to understand and increase awareness of the information provided on Nutrition Facts Panels (NFP). In my opinion, companies can assist consumers in reducing costs and illness by creating visibly stimulating labels. This would help create awareness for consumers. Eating healthier not only supports consumer health, but assists in decreased health costs, controlled body weight, enhanced energy, and improved mood.

To give you an understanding and background on my stance, I am an avid exercise enthusiast who is concerned about my health and eating habits. Although I realize some may not put much emphasis on their health, there are numerous reasons to do so besides physical appearance. My article is solely my opinion and an endeavor to advocate food safety and health awareness by persuading consumers to read labels; thus improving their health and way of life.

With the economy in a slump, one of the main concerns with obesity is the increasing annual health cost. A study showed that obese Americans cost the U.S. about $147 billion in weight related medical bills in 2008, double of what it was a decade ago. In fact, obesity was responsible for “9.1 percent of annual medical costs in 2006 compared with 6.5 percent in 1998.” Further, “people who are obese spent $1,429 (42 percent) more for medical care in 2006 than people with normal weight did.” The benefits of eating healthier not only help the consumer lose weight, but are also a cost-effective way for improving public health. A number of recommendations have been suggested to help decrease this number.

What’s ONE solution to decreasing obesity? According to a study by The Neilson Company, only 21 percent of U.S. consumers always check the nutritional information on food packaging. Further, research by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) illustrates few consumers actually understand how the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) fits in with their daily diet. The IFIC is making an impact by researching how to “effectively communicate science-based information on health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good.” Hopefully, this research will help bridge the “disconnect” between consumers and their awareness.

I submit that most nutrition labels are neither appealing nor motivating to read (albeit some intentionally). The IFIC’s study reveals that many factors and influences impact consumer food choices. Understanding these influences is extremely important in curbing obesity and improving consumer health. A few of the challenges the research found were:

  1. Consumers find serving size information misleading;
  2. Consumers do not consider their consumption of foods and beverages in the context of their daily intake; and 
  3. Consumers do not realize information to help them interpret daily context exists on the current NFP (%DV, or percent Daily Value).

The IFIC’s research, along with my own proposals, suggest solutions to consumer challenges that would considerably help the consumer understand the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP). A few of these suggestions include:

  • Companies should “clarify the service size.” To do this, producers could illustrate that serving size is not arbitrary and increases consumers’ ability to comprehend how serving size relates to the entire NFP. Include a government body, such as the FDA. This inclusion increases the perception of truth in the information provided, particularly in serving size.
  • The second enhancement would be to call attention to daily intake. The Foundation suggests encouraging consumers to think about all the foods and nutrients that make up a balanced diet. 
  • Move the location of calories into the main body of the NFP. This encourages greater use and visibility. 
  • Finally, the Foundation suggests simplifying the Percentage (%) of Daily Value (DV). To do so, companies could move the %DV explanation footnote into a column next to %DV to encourage consumers to think about how serving size relates to teh entire NFP. Adding the %DV of calories helps consumers consider a product within the context of their daily diet.

Companies could make an inherent impact on consumer health by making the nutrition labels clear, readable, and more appealing to the reader. This can be achieved simply by adding color, bigger font, and highlighting different characteristics of the product’s ingredients. I realize this may be unpopular with some companies, however, from a consumer health standpoint, it would significantly facilitate the fight against obesity. A final suggestion is to encourage health awareness at an early age in schools. (Michelle Obama has made this a priority and seems to be making immense strides.)

Obesity is rising to epidemic proportions and can be a strain on consumers’ health and financial means. In order to lessen the health and economic burden of obesity, it is critical that consumers understand and take notice of Nutrition Fact Panels. Although this is by no means the cure to rising health costs, it can unquestionably reduce the economic burden and constraints placed on consumer health.