Institute of Medicine says food labels for calories, fat, sodium would be most useful

October 14, 2010

Nutrition labels on the front of packaged foods should highlight the presence of four contents linked to disease: calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium, according to a new report from the national Institute of Medicine.

These food components, the report says, are commonly overconsumed and are linked with health problems affecting many Americans: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

“Calories, saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium present the most serious diet-related risks to people’s health, and many Americans consume far too much of these nutrients,” committee chair Ellen Wartella, director, a Northwestern University professor, said in a statement. “As Americans grapple with increasing rates of serious health problems connected to their diets, it’s important that the nutritional information they receive is clear, consistent, and well-grounded in nutrition science.”

The report was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is considering a system of standardized labels on the front of packages with simple information more likely to be read by consumers than the current, more detailed nutrition data on the back of packaging today. The new system would be in addition to the current nutrition labeling.

Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.

The institute also plans to review research on how consumers understand and use different types of nutritional information. It will then issue another report on optimize the usefulness of front-of-package nutrition rating systems and symbols. That report will also include the committee’s assessment of the pros and cons of having a single, standardized front-label food guidance system that is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

To see the full report, click here.

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