Food Industry Preempts Government’s Labeling Plan
The food and beverage industry soon will begin displaying nutrition information on the front label of packages, according to recent announcements by two industry trade groups, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
The industry’s “Nutrition Keys” labeling system will use symbols to indicate calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium for a single serving of a product. To the right of these four nutrients will be the content of up to two “nutrients to encourage” in a healthy diet. They include potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. New packages from participating companies will appear on shelves within the next few months.
Some observers speculate that the industry is trying to preempt the federal government’s recommendations for front-of-package labeling. The Institute of Medicine and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are expected to release their recommendations in the near future. The industry’s system does not indicate whether a product is high or low in an unhealthy nutrient, like the United Kingdom’s “Traffic Light” system.
A past attempt by the industry to provide nutrition content failed. In the “Smart Choices” program, packages included symbols indicating that products such as Froot Loops met the industry’s nutrition criteria. The program was pulled following an investigation by the Connecticut Attorney General and the FDA. (The authority of attorneys general in food policy is analyzed in a recent paper by Rudd Center faculty.)
New Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The federal government’s recently released “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010” follow Michael Pollan’s mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It recommends eating smaller portions and to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, resulting in a calorie-balanced and nutrient-dense diet.
Released every 5 years, the guidelines on healthy eating are set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services for Americans age 2 and up. They are used by policy makers, the food and beverage industry, and nutritionists and help to create uniformity in federal nutrition policy, education, and food assistance programs.
The report recommends a reduction in sugar-sweetened beverages. It states that soda, energy, and sports drinks are the number one source of added sugar for Americans. Sugar-sweetened beverages provide no additional nutrients and may be consumed in place of nutrient-dense foods and beverages.
A new chapter discusses changes that should be made to the food environment to create opportunities for healthy eating behaviors. Strategies include:
- “Initiate partnerships with food producers, suppliers, and retailers to promote the development and availability of appropriate portions of affordable, nutritious food products.”
- “Develop legislation, policies, and systems in key sectors such as public health, health care, retail, school foodservice… to prevent and reduce obesity.”
- “Ensure that all meals and snacks sold and served in schools and childcare and early childhood settings are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.”
- “Develop and support effective policies to limit food and beverage marketing to children.”
Consumer-friendly resources, including an update to the previous Food Pyramid, have not yet been announced.
Wal-Mart Gets Healthier
Wal-Mart, the country’s largest food seller, recently announced its plan to reformulate its food products to make them healthier. The change is aimed at improving the nation’s diet and pushing its suppliers to follow suit. During the next five years, the company promises to reduce the sodium in its store-brand packaged foods by 25%, cut added sugars by 10%, and remove trans fats entirely. Wal-Mart also plans to drop prices on produce, establish stores in low-income neighborhoods, and develop branding for healthier items.
Some observers question whether Wal-Mart’s move is a sincere effort to improve the nation’s health or an attempt to build its image. However, this initiative could benefit millions and set a new standard in the food supply industry, according to Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director.
“Food companies have systematically trained Americans to eat in perverse ways. We now expect extreme levels of sweetness, fattiness, and saltiness in our foods,” said Dr. Brownell. “Wal-Mart is a major client of this industry and therefore has great leverage. By changing its own products it creates a model for others to change theirs.”
Upcoming Seminar Speakers
February 16, 12:30 pm
February 23, 12:30 pm
March 2, 12:30 pm
Unless otherwise noted, seminars are held at the Rudd Center. The seminars are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. The full schedule for our Spring Seminar Series is available online and for download.
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USDA Releases New School Meal Guidelines
As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a proposal to update the nutrition requirements for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
Based on recommendations released by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine in October 2009, the proposed meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in 15 years and include:
- Establishing calorie limits.
- Cutting salt in half over the next 10 years.
- Banning most trans fats.
- Adding more fruits and vegetables.
- Serving only low-fat or nonfat milk.
- Increasing the amount of whole grains.
- Including grains and proteins in breakfast meals.
While the proposal is a step in the right direction, only nominal limits will be placed on sugar and flavored skim milk will be allowed.
It may take several years for enforcement to occur. Comments on the new standards can be submitted through April 13.
Legislation Database Available
As the 2011 legislative session begins, stay up-to-date on food policy and obesity legislation with the Rudd Center’s Legislation Database, a resource for researchers, policymakers, and community members.
The database features a comprehensive search for legislation filed by Congress, states, and select cities and counties. You will find the full text of bills, their current status, and sponsorship information. You can search for legislation by issue, including sugar-sweetened beverage taxes and school nutrition. Bill status is monitored and the database is updated regularly. Legislation from 2009 to 2010 is available in the Legislation Database Archive.
Since the new legislative session began in January, 133 bills related to obesity and food policy have been introduced in 31 states and the U.S. House of Representatives. Eight states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia – have introduced bills to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Rudd Center Spotlight: Eric Mar
Eric Mar will discuss how to increase access to healthier meals on February 23 as part of the Rudd Center’s Spring Seminar Series.
Elected in 2008 to represent the Richmond District in San Francisco, Supervisor Mar is a dedicated and responsive advocate for working families, youth, seniors, small businesses, and residents. He recently led the effort to enact the Healthy Meal Ordinance in San Francisco. The legislation forbids restaurants from selling toys with meals that do not meet nutritional requirements set by the city’s Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Mar served as Commissioner and President of the San Francisco Board of Education, Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party's Central Committee, and Director of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
He is a former Professor at San Francisco State University and a longtime social justice activist. As a public interest attorney, he served on the Human Rights Committee of the State Bar of California and the Civil Rights Committee of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
Just Published by the Rudd Center
The obesity crisis can only be reversed with combined efforts of government officials, stakeholders, and local organizations. While attorneys general have a broad range of powers that can influence obesity and food policy, they can be more deeply involved in formulating and crafting solutions for this public health problem. Attorneys general can make significant contributions to obesity and food policy by using their vast authority to protect and educate consumers, generate and support regulation, partner with other states and the federal government, and create innovative solutions. The paper, recently published online in American Journal of Public Health, was cowritten by the Rudd Center’s Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Director of Legal Initiatives, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Director.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Move over Meat
The Meatless Monday initiative has another partner at its lunch table. International food service company Sodexo now offers meatless options to its hospital clients and has made menus, tools, and information packets available to its government and corporate clients. School and university clients will be included in this initiative in the fall. Sodexo serves 10 million people in North America each day.
Meatless Mondays was launched in 2003 by The Monday Campaigns, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The initiative promotes plant-based meals, which are associated with lower rates of obesity and other chronic diseases.
Watch a Demonstration of the Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT)
The WellSAT assesses the comprehensiveness and strength of school districts’ local wellness policies in nutrition education and promotion, physical activity/physical education, school meals, and competitive foods. It is the first instrument of its kind, providing a quantitative assessment that can be used to track progress over time.
The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts
Matthew L. Myers
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The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine section, or can be subscribed to through an RSS Feed that automatically updates when new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.