Nutrition Facts Label Updated to (Finally) Reflect How We Actually Eat

Madison Friend

The redesign of the ubiquitous label means it will soon reflect the leaps and bounds made in health and nutrition science over the past decade. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has emphasized that this was one of the main goals of the update. “I’ve made nutrition one of my top priorities, and ensuring that consumers have accurate and science-based information concerning the link between diet and chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease is part of that commitment,” said Gottlieb.

The new label design reflects the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The FDA had another major goal with the update of the NFL - to make it easier to read, and thus easier for families to make informed decisions about the food they eat. The old label was cramped and cluttered, littered with too-general information that meant little to nothing to the average consumer. It required critical thinking and a good deal more math than most consumers are willing to do in the aisles of a crowded grocery store on a midweek night after a long day of work.

In the refreshed label, a footnote about the meaning of “Percent Daily Value” that consumed nearly 20 percent of the older version has been done away with to allow for the increased type size and bolding of the fields “Calories,” and “serving size.” The type size of “servings per container” has also been increased.

Finally, the new label requires manufacturers to update serving sizes of their products to reflect what people actually eat and drink, not what they should be eating. This includes whether a product is typically consumed in one or more than one sitting. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously a half cup but is changing to two-thirds a cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.

Dawn Lovejoy, a health educator, member of the Public Health Association and part of the education leadership team for MA Farm to School, says this change is key, especially for children.

“A 20-ounce soda might have had two-and-a half-servings. Now, as of the new rules, that’s going to be one serving, and that’s much more straightforward,” says Lovejoy. “I really like this label...While a lot of it seems kind of remedial, it makes it really easy to have a conversation with people about nutrition.”

Lovejoy travels to public schools in Central Massachusetts to teach kindergarten to high school age students about nutrition science and how to make healthy choices about the foods they eat. The NFL comes up frequently during her classes.

She thinks the most important and necessary element of the redesign is that the new label will reduce opportunities for companies to manipulate consumers by misrepresenting the nutrition content of their product on a cluttered, unclear, or outright confusing label.

“If I can, I try to illustrate how food is politicized, even though we think it’s just a breakfast cereal,” says Lovejoy. “This makes it easier not just for a second grader or a fourth grader, but their parents, and they’re the ones doing the purchasing.”

Other major changes to the label include modifying the list of required nutrients.

Unfortunately, we’re not rid of that pesky old label just yet. Major food manufacturers were required to include the updated NFL on their products by Jan. 1, 2019, but smaller manufacturers have an extra year, until Jan. 1, 2020, to comply. That means it will be a full year before all of your family’s favorite foods feature the new label. (Keep a sharp eye on ‘servings per container’ and ‘total sugars’ until then.)