If no one reads the "Nutrition Fact" panels in small print on the backs and sides of food packaging, are they really working?
A new report from the Institute of Medicine urges the Food and Drug Administration to use a snappy, graphic rating system for food that will draw the attention of consumers – similar to how the "Energy Star" rating symbol has made it easy to spot an energy efficient refrigerator or dishwasher.
The new rating system wouldn’t replace the Nutrition Facts panel, but it would spotlight the health information most pertinent to consumers trying to eat healthy: calories, serving size, fat, sodium, and sugar levels.
"American shoppers are busy shoppers," said Ellen Wartella, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, and chair of the Institute of Medicine committee that studied the issue at the request of federal health officials. "We want a really simple system that says if you have three marks, that product is healthier than one with two marks."
Meanwhile, food manufacturers are pushing for their own new type of labeling – such as one called "Facts Up Front" that lists calories, fat, sodium, and sugar levels – but they abhor the idea of ranking foods as healthy or not.
"We believe the most effective programs are those that trust consumers and not ones that tell consumers what they should and should not eat," said Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.