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The First Lady unveils the new Nutrition Facts Label with added sugars included

By Elizabeth Crawford

20-May-2016
Last updated on 25-May-2016 at 16:43 GMT2016-05-25T16:43:26Z

Source: FDA
Source: FDA

First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the long-awaited new Nutrition Facts label as a “landmark achievement” that serves as a capstone to her dedicated efforts to improve the health of America’s youngest generations.

"Today, I am thrilled to announce another new achievement ... and this is a big one as far as I am concerned. For the first time in 20 years, the FDA has finalized a new, improved Nutrition Facts label that will be on nearly 800,000 food products nationwide. The calorie count is bigger, bigger font, and you can actually see it. The serving sizes are more realistic. And, most important of all, this label will tell you how much sugar in your snack was added during processing and how much of it comes from ingredients like fruit," the First Lady - who is the honorary chair of the nonpartisan nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) - announced the rule at PHA’s Building a Healthier Future Summit this morning.

"Very soon, you will no longer need a microscope, a calculator or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you are buying is actually good for your kids," she added. 

Added Sugars included amid controversy

News that the revamped label will include the highly contested "Added Sugars" line under the "Total Sugars" line likely will cause chagrin for some manufacturers.

During the review process, several commenters complained that consumers would not understand that the “Added Sugars” were already factored into the “Total Sugars,” and therefore might add the two together, creating the illusion of a frighteningly high false total that could deter purchases.

Several opponents of the change also argued that sugar is sugar and there is no need to distinguish added sugar from naturally occurring or total sugar. 

FDA countered that highlighting the added variety will help consumers identify foods that are nutrient-dense and help them reduce consumption of excess discretionary calories from added sugars.

In response to manufacturers’ concerns that consumers would not understand that added sugars are a subset of total sugars, the agency added to the final label the modifier “’included” to make it clear that added sugars are a small component of the total sugar, a senior administrative official said.

The agency also is committed to providing substantial consumer education to ensure that shoppers understand the importance of each element of the revised Nutrition Facts Label, the official added.

What's on the new label?

•  An updated design to make calories more prominent.

•  New requirements for serving sizes that more closely reflect the amounts of food that people currently eat. 

•  Declaration of grams and a percent daily value (%DV) for 'added sugars'.

[However, fruit or vegetable juice concentrates used towards the total juice percentage label declaration or for Brix standardization are not considered “added sugars” for purpose of the nutrition labeling.  Similarly, neither fruit juice concentrates which are used to formulate the fruit component of jellies, jams, or preserves in accordance with the standards of identity, nor the fruit component of fruit spreads, are “added sugars” for purposes of nutrition labeling.]

•  'Dual column' labels to indicate 'per serving' and 'per package' calories and nutrition for multi-serve products.

•  For packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20oz soda, calories and other nutrients must be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

•  Updated daily values for sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D.

•  Declaration of Vitamin D and potassium. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required.

•  Calories from Fat will be removed.

•  An abbreviated footnote will better explain the %DV.

Most food manufacturers will be required to use the new label by July 26, 2018. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have another year to comply.

The American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association support the call-out on the new labels. As does the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“A line disclosing added sugars with a corresponding percent Daily Value on updated Nutrition Fats labels should help consumers reduce their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease,” CSPI said in a statement released May 20.

For example, it explained, the revised label will help consumers understand that a 20-ounce bottle of Coke has 130% of the added sugars limit for the day.

“Besides helping consumers make more informed choices, the new label should also spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products,” it added.

Indeed, the Grocery Manufacturers Association noted in a May 20 statement that many manufacturers already are responding to consumers’ desire for healthier products by creating more than 30,000 healthier product choices since 2002 and by providing Facts Up Front front-of-pack labels and the SmartLabel initiative.

Nonetheless, GMA acknowledged manufacturers’ concerns that consumers could be confused by the new label. As such, it suggests: “a robust consumer education effort will be needed to ensure that people continue to understand how the revised label can be used to make informed choices and maintain healthful dietary practices.”

It added: “We look forward to working with FDA and other stakeholders on messages and activities to help consumers understand what the new labels mean.”

Other key changes

The updated Nutrition Facts Label also includes a more visible call out of the total calories and the serving size per package.

It also includes updated daily values for cholesterol, sodium and total carbohydrates that reflect updated science, as well as the actual amount of highlighted nutrients of interest.

In addition, the nutrients of interest portion of the label will now include vitamin D and potassium, which replace vitamins A and C. The reason behind the change is that vitamins D and potassium are nutrients at risk of shortfall, whereas there is not a similar risk for vitamins A and C in America.

Finally, the new label also includes a new footnote that explains to consumers what the percent daily value is and how to use it as a tool for meeting desirable nutrient intake levels within a standard daily caloric intake.

Serving sizes updated

FDA also issued a simultaneous rule that updates the standard serving sizes for foods, which are included on the label. About 20% of serving sizes are being update with some going up and some going down, according to a senior administrative official.

The official added that the new serving sizes are based on data gathered based on current consumption patterns. 

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