FOP = ?

October 15, 2010

Considering America’s track record for healthy eating

Considering America’s track record for healthy eating – roughly measured through the rising rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more, it seems those front of package claims (FOP), whose goal is to help inform better eating, aren’t really working. And that’s no surprise. The Lempert Report has had plenty to say about this in the past and although apprehensive about increasing government regulation in the food industry, FOP regulations may be necessary in getting our country back on track in the healthy eating department. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA, examined twenty FOP and on-shelf labeling programs in use in the US and globally, and released the report this week.
The IOM specifically focused on nutrition rating/symbol “programs” used by various retailers and CPG’s, and how they can best serve consumers. The committee stated that ratings systems should communicate in simple shorthand information that helps consumers maintain or reach a healthy weight. Doing so, in turn, will drive down the rate of nutrition related chronic diseases. The goal of the report is not (as of yet) to implement change nor make recommendations but to review current FOP programs to inform a second phase, which will examine how consumers use and understand FOP information. 
Four nutrients were singled out:  calories, trans fats, saturated fats and sodium. The committee comments that these, “are routinely overconsumed and associated most strongly with diet-related health problems affecting many Americans, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.”
The Lempert Report realizes that the IOM has been sifting through the literature for months, and that this is only the preliminary report, but it seems like were back to demonizing ingredients and focusing on negative attributes of food. And hey, haven’t most CPGs removed trans fats from their products anyway, as well as reducing sodium content? And what about sugar – apparently there isn’t enough scientific literature linking sugar to obesity and the like, and the IOM believes that both added and naturally occurring sugars contribute to the caloric content therefore, highlighting calories per serving would address this concern. 
As for other nutrition claims such as “high in fiber” and “rich in vitamin C,” these will still be allowed, but the IOM believes they offer little information of value to a consumer trying to manage weight and avoid chronic diseases linked to obesity. And in fact, such labels often distract consumers' attention from evidence of a product's nutritional deficits.
Overall it seems as though there will be little change to current FOP labeling other than a streamlined system with clear definitions, which in the end may prove useful for consumers.