Michelle Obama unveiled the new rules announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday for the way packaged foods are labeled. For the first time, added sugars will be included and serving sizes will be included among food labels as accurate reflections of how much people actually eat.

The label still looks the same in its appearance — the typical black and white with two columns and categories such as cholesterol and sodium, remaining the same. However, some categories are now more pronounced than others and the manner in which the figures used to be calculated has also changed. All this has been done to increase awareness amongst consumers and to help them make more informed decisions about their dietary habits and purchases.

Some of the main changes in food labels that have occurred are about the information regarding serving sizes. They now reflect how much the average American is actually eating as opposed to what the company thinks they should be eating. This change has taken place in accordance with the new Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. FDA officials predict that by doing this, serving sizes will decrease for some foods. The ‘Calories’ label is now represented in huge bold letters compared to the same size as the rest of the labels before, to make it more prominent so it is easier to read. This will also serve as an attempt to make consumers conscious, realize its importance and eventually help decrease obesity.

The most important change which has never taken place before is the category of ‘Added Sugars.’ The FDA believes that consumers need to be aware of how much sugar they are consuming, particularly sugar that is derived from processed foods, as this sugar is what is actually contributing to obesity rates in America.

The FDA says, ‘It is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars.’

Research has also shown that high sugar consumption is linked to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Fruit juices that consumers believe are all-natural, will now be depicted in their true light, when consumers will see just how much sugar is added to them.

Michael Jacobson, the founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has backed this decision taken by the FDA and says that ‘the labels should also spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products.’

Food items that could be used up as a single serving or multiple servings now have two columns, one indicating per serving information and the other depicting per package calorie and nutrition information. For odd sized packages that can be used for one or two servings, only one label will be present, taking it as one serving, as that is how much people are consuming in reality.

New food labels

The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines released for Americans, and recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, have led to some changes in the percent daily values for sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D. Thus the new food labels regarding these will be calculated according to the new guidelines.

Vitamin A and C will no longer be included on the food labels as their deficiencies are rare these days. Nonetheless, for vitamin D  and potassium, the gram amount which was missing before will now be included, as nationwide food consumption surveys have shown people are not getting enough of these nutrients.

Vitamin D is extremely important for healthy bones and potassium helps regulate and lower blood pressure levels. The ‘Calories from Fat’ label will no longer be there, nevertheless the ‘Total Amount of Fat’ label will be present along with subcategories.

When asked how they feel about these new food labels, the industry produced mixed reviews. The Sugar Association has said that the emphasis on sugar is going to cause confusion and take attention away from calories.

Other packaged food manufacturers have also shown their disapproval such as General Mills (makers of Cheerios), American Beverage Association and the American Bakers Association. Beverage companies have argued that they are already putting calorie labels on the front of cans and bottles, but consumers will now notice the added sugar information which was previously not available to them.

However, some food companies have been supportive, such as Mars Inc, Snickers, Nestle and M&M’s. They believe that a balanced diet is important and that spreading awareness regarding nutrition and guiding consumers in this direction through the use of food labels is the appropriate thing to do. The largest chocolate company in the US, Hershey’s, said that, ‘it will work diligently to make the necessary updates to our nutrition facts labels as requested by the FDA’.

July 26th, 2018, is the date till which manufacturers will have to adhere to these final requirements regarding food labels. Those who have invested less than $10 million in annual food sales will be granted an extra year to make the changes.