For the first time since it was developed in the early 1990s, the Nutrition Facts label is getting a new look. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday introduced plans for updating the label to include larger serving sizes, calorie counts in larger type and “added sugars” values, with the hope that it will help consumers reduce their risks of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. “These are very important changes, and our goal here is to design a label that is easier to read and one that consumers can understand,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg at an announcement event with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House. “This proposal is the culmination of years of research, study and requests for public input.” “As consumers and as parents, we have a right to understand what’s in the food we’re feeding our families because that’s really the only way that we can make informed choices – by having clear, accurate information,” Obama said at the event, which was part of the fourth anniversary celebration of her Let’s Move! campaign to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. “Ultimately, that’s what today’s announcement is all about.” Key aspects of FDA’s proposed changes include:

  • A greater emphasis — with larger and bolder type — on calories.
  • Listing an Added Sugars value: The food industry is likely to take issue with this aspect of the proposal. “They do not want consumers to know how much sugar they are adding, especially since so many health authorities are relating sugar intake to obesity.”
  • Calories from fat would no longer be listed. (But total, saturated and trans fat will still be required.)
  • Updated serving sizes that better reflect what people actually eat. Serving sizes are not a recommendation but simply a lens through which people can understand nutrition.
  • The number of servings per package will be more prominent.
  • Updated Daily Values for various nutrients and shifting the Percent Daily Value (%DV)  to the left of the label. FDA wants to help consumers visually and quickly put nutrient information in context.
  • A slight decrease in the Daily Value for sodium from 2,400 to 2,300 milligrams.
  • Amounts of potassium and Vitamin D would be required on the label, while listing Vitamins A and C would become voluntary.

The proposal received “mostly high marks” from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), but there are further changes the organization would like to see made, namely a further decrease of the Daily Value for sodium to 1,500 milligrams and the inclusion of a Daily Value for added sugars. (CSPI recommends it be set at 25 grams which, at about six teaspoons, is a lot less that the 22 teaspoons the average American consumes each day.) Marion Nestle, nutrition expert and professor at New York University, told Food Safety News that she reacted to the proposal with “surprise that it’s as consumer-friendly as it is” and “delight that it did everything I hoped it would.” Of course, consumers will still need to look at the label. “But even a casual glance ought to tell you something about calories,” Nestle said. “We realize that the label alone won’t magically change how America eats, but we hope that once consumers decide to implement changes in their diet that lead to healthier lifestyles, it will provide them with the tools to be successful,” Hamburg said. FDA has divided the changes to the Nutrition Facts label into two proposed rules. One updates nutrition information and the label design to help highlight important information. The other covers the changes to serving-size requirements and labeling for certain package sizes. The proposed rules will be published to the Federal Register and a 90-day comment period opened. FDA plans to finish the final rule by 2015 and then give industry two years to put the new rules into effect. “We look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rulemaking process,” said Pamela Bailey, CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in a statement. “It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science.”