See the guy in the stock photo above? He has a weight problem because he doesn’t know how to read the Nutrition Facts labels on foods. Seriously, it’s not his fault. It’s those sneaky food companies who falsely claim a supersized burger and fries are healthy foods.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes to do something about deceptive food product labels. The FDA just announced a proposed rule (and labels) that outline the criteria that meets nutritional guidelines allowing companies to claim their products are healthy.
Under the proposal, manufacturers can label their products “healthy” if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetable or dairy) recommended by the dietary guidelines. They must also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
For example, a cereal would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving for a food manufacturer to use the word “healthy” on the label.
The purpose of the proposed rule is to make it easier for consumers to choose healthy foods without requiring a registered dietician to understand Nutritional Facts labels.
The agency also is developing a symbol that companies can voluntarily use to label food products that meet federal guidelines for the term “healthy.”
Do Americans really want healthier food? Granted, there appears to be more interest in healthy food choices in recent years. Yet, obesity continues to rise. That’s what economists call a “revealed preference.” That is, Americans say they want healthy choices but reveal their true preferences by eating the unhealthy choices that taste better. Just consider the junk food aisle. The selection of junk food in the junk food aisle at grocery stores is expanding rapidly.
Don’t most Americans already sort of know which foods are inconsistent with a healthy lifestyle? Aren’t Americans already aware that thousand calorie burgers with supersized fries and a gallon of corn syrup-laden soda is bad for you? Speaking of revealed preferences: what does it tell you that Kroger’s meat market bargain bit is always filled with multiple packages of Beyond Meat veggie ground meat substitute? What does it tell you that Beyond Meat’s stock price was $135 in late July 2019 but now languishes at $14.42. It tells me that healthy plant-based burgers are a hard sell.
New labeling language is sure to be controversial among food manufacturers that have sought to capitalize on Americans’ interest in more-healthful food.
“The FDA’s ‘healthy’ definition can succeed only if it is clear and consistent for manufacturers and understood by consumers,” Roberta Wagner, a spokeswoman for the industry organization Consumer Brands Association, said Tuesday.
I’m not a fan of deceptive product labels. I can see the benefit of requiring an objective standard for claiming health benefits. Yet, I don’t really think these guidelines will make much difference in America’s Battle of the Bulge.