Next year, food makers and retailers will start applying easier-to-read nutrition labels on the front of their packaging to help consumers fight obesity, says Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The products are from some of the biggest U.S. food makers, say two trade groups.

In 2011, it just might get easier to making healthy choices at the supermarket if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has its way. FDA has been pushing for uniform labels on food and beverage containers in efforts to reduce the nation’s obesity rate. The number of people in the United States who are obese has more than doubled in the past 30 years to 72 million, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that the federal government asked food makers to develop a labeling system that will put nutrient information on the front of packages.

The calorie content and health information would appear on the front of packages in a “fact-based, simple and easy-to-use format,” said the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a joint statement announcing the voluntary labeling system.

The new labels will appear early next year, Sebelius says. Full details of the plan, including technical and design elements, are to become final in the coming months. The hope is that the food industry will develop a label that assists in consumer understanding and helps parents and other shoppers easily identify and select products that contribute to a healthy diet, explains an FDA spokesperson. The move could be the biggest change to U.S. food labels in nearly 20 years, says David Mackay, president and CEO of Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek, Mich.