May 26, 2016

Michelle Obama’s Mark on the Nutrition Label

Last week, Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) held its 5th Building a Healthier Future Summit, which featured the unveiling of a new FDA nutritional label. The event is an incredible collection of corporations, nonprofits and other organizations focused on creating solutions to ensure every child grows up at a healthy weight. I’ve had the pleasure of attending 4 of the 5 Summits, each hosted by Board Chair, James R. Gavin III, MD, PhD with the keynote address delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady is the honorary chair and along with her involvement with the Let’s Move! program, has dedicated her time to helping solve the childhood obesity crisis.

The new FDA nutrition label is a crowning achievement for Michelle Obama’s efforts. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked hard to get this over the finish line, the First Lady’s ability to spark national attention for this initiative is extraordinary. While the media has often painted her Let’s Move! campaign as simply fun and insignificant, the First Lady brought enormous pressure on groups (like the processed food industry) to garner a series of wins related to what we eat. Those efforts include the commitments of hundreds of corporations achieved through PHA, the administration’s effort to mandate more fruits and vegetables as well as less sugar, salt and fat for the meals served to over 30 million school kids.

The design of the new labels, which most manufacturers will be required to use by July 2018, will not look radically different. However, there are notable design and content changes as described by the FDA.

FDA-Nutrition-LabelServing Sizes now reflect what people currently eat, rather than whatever the companies decide is reasonable. Calories are now highlighted in much larger type to reflect our country’s growing obesity problem. And actual amounts are now included in addition to daily values, which also went through a change based on the 2015-2020 dietary recommendations.

But most significant is the line detailing the amount of added sugars contained in packaged foods. It turns out that cane and beet sugars added to foods — arguably responsible for everything from heart disease to obesity to diabetes — had previously been lumped into the sugars label category, and effectively have been hidden in plain sight from consumers.

The Sugar Association, which represents the vast majority of sugar producers, has argued the FDA has no scientific justification for mandating added sugars labeling and that doing so sets “an alarming precedent for this and future product labeling regulations.” Some in the industry also argue that labeling added sugars is likely to confuse consumers.

I contend that this is a good thing, and think that change after a twenty-year shelf life of our labels will drive more people to take note of the nutrition facts. More information creates conscious decisions, which I believe will only help in the fight against obesity. And, at the end of the day, that’s the mark the First Lady set out to make in the first place.

Delucchi Plus is a proud partner of PHA’s Drink Up initiative, a collaboration to encourage everyone to drink more water. Learn More