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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Washington, D.C., is revising the Nutrition facts label to give consumers more useful information and help fight the national obesity epidemic. A proposal is in the works to change several parts of the label, including more accurate serving sizes, a greater emphasis on calories and a diminished role in the daily percent values for substances like fat, sodium and carbohydrates.
The struggle to redesign the labels on every box, can and carton has been in the works since 2003, and some of the changes could be proposed as soon as this year. FDA deputy commissioner Michael Taylor cautions not to expect a grand overhaul, but the updated label will mark a shift to create a more useful, nutritional snapshot of foods millions of Americans consume every day.
It's the latest attempt to improve the way Americans view food and make choices about what they eat, and comes in the wake of major advances in nutrition regulations by the Obama administration.
Calorie counts are showing up on restaurant menus across the country, and the long-standing food pyramid was toppled this year by the U.S. government in favor of a plate that gives a picture of what a healthy daily diet looks like.
"There's no question obesity is a central public health concern that the nutrition facts panel can play a role in. It's obviously not a magic wand, but it can be an informative tool," says Taylor.
The label, available on packaging now for two decades, provides a glimpse of nutritional information about what's inside each package, including calories and grams of fats, cholesterol, protein and carbohydrates. But critics have complained that it's confusing and doesn't offer a simple way to make a choice about whether the product is good for them, a judgment the industry wants to leave to consumers.
Taylor says that one revision will be to make portion sizes better reflect reality. A better way to emphasize calories, which many people rely on for weight control, will be evaluated and items likely to disappear or change because they haven't proven useful include calories from fat and the daily percentage value numbers that show how much what an average diet should include.