May 19, 2014

The FDA's Food Label Flaws

Sherzod Abdukadirov

Former Research Fellow
Summary

These days many consumers rely on the “Nutrition Facts” labels on the back of food products to count calories, check fat content and decide if what they’re eating is healthy. These labels aren’t perfect, though, and with that in mind, the Food and Drug Administration has a rule under consideration to revamp the labeling requirements. The rule’s main goal is to update the label to reflect the latest scientific evidence on nutrition.

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These days many consumers rely on the “Nutrition Facts” labels on the back of food products to count calories, check fat content and decide if what they’re eating is healthy. These labels aren’t perfect, though, and with that in mind, the Food and Drug Administration has a rule under consideration to revamp the labeling requirements. The rule’s main goal is to update the label to reflect the latest scientific evidence on nutrition.

The need to update the recommended daily values presented the FDA with a unique opportunity to genuinely improve the overall label design and to increase the nutrition label’s use and health impact. Unfortunately, the FDA’s proposal wasted the opportunity, instead opting for marginal design changes unsupported by any empirical evidence. For example, in support of the label redesign, the rule cites only one study that examines just two of the 13 proposed changes. Interestingly, the study finds no empirical support for the FDA’s decision to increase the font size for calories, as it had no impact on consumers’ choices. Nevertheless, the FDA decided to proceed with its proposal to increase the prominence of calories on the label.

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