Sweetening food labels
Cue the collective sighs of relief from health-conscious American consumers, harmonized with the groans of the food industry, lobbyists and the national budget.
On Feb. 27, first lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg unveiled a redesigned nutrition label in a radical attempt to overhaul the way we think about and consume food.
For the average college student looking to stay healthy and abide by a budget, these labels will make it simple to know, at a glance, what you’re getting out of what you buy. Rather than searching through tiny print and confusing serving sizes, these labels will streamline the process of identifying healthy food, something simple we all need with so many other things on our plate.
For the first time in 20 years, the FDA has approved massive changes to the hard-to-read and even harder to understand food labels that can be found on about 700,000 food products, according to The Washington Post. Some of the changes to the labels include increasing the font size for the calorie count, redefining a serving size and, for the first time, differentiating between how much sugar is present naturally versus how much is artificially added — finally calling attention to America’s sugar addiction.
The American Heart Association says men should limit their added sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons a day, roughly 150 calories. For women, it’s only a 6 teaspoon or 100 calorie allocation. Considering a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains a staggering 39 grams, or 7.8 teaspoons of sugar, it’s easy to see how simple it is to vastly underrate the amount of sugar we consume in a day.
Recent data shows this change could not have come at a better time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009-2010 data indicates the adult obesity rate was at 35.7 percent. This change may be drastic enough to alter the way we view food and choose what we consume to impact the obesity epidemic in a positive way. Rather than providing a set of rules, the new labeling system promises a tangible way to see just what kind of nutrition you’re getting from that pack of M&M’s you’re binge eating while studying for your next exam.
By making it quicker and easier to tell exactly what you’re eating, there’s less of a chance you’ll make poor choices and consume calories you don’t need. As students on tight schedules and tight budgets, it’s important that we know exactly what we’re getting at the U-Mart or grocery store.
While opponents of the change may scoff at its hefty immediate cost, a whopping $2 billion according to The Washington Post, the administration predicts that over the next 20 years, companies will see that cost offset by $20 billion to $30 billion in benefits.
Although the results won’t be immediate, the creation of a system that makes it easy and efficient to make healthy choices is a long-term benefit for Americans. In a country where, according to the CDC, the annual cost of obesity in 2008 was $147 billion, it’s a wonder that such changes haven’t been implemented sooner.
This isn’t just an overhaul of aesthetics; it’s an entirely new frontier for the food industry. The FDA must take public comments on these changes for 90 days, and manufacturing companies will have two years to implement the changes, according to CNN. Coupled with the increasing pressure on food companies to produce healthier and more desirable products from an increasingly health-conscious population, the changes will have to be massive.
While health is often low on the priority list of overstressed and overworked college students, this is a national change we should all be paying close attention to. Within the span of a few years, this major victory for public health will become a reality. There is overwhelming evidence that the long-term benefits will be far greater than the initial costs. This overhaul is a massive step in the right direction for our well-being and longevity.
— Mackenzie Brown is a pre-physiology freshman. Follow her @mac_brown01