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Will Front-of-Label Nutrition Information Make a Difference?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Those of us that are nutritionally aware have become quite competent at reading the nutrition label as we make purchasing decisions at the supermarket.

Last fall, Coach Dean shared his concerns with the Smart Choices labeling program when Froot Loops was considered a smart choice. The Food and Drug Administration also warned the food industry to standardize the proliferation of symbols and ratings used to highlight nutritional claims on the front of food packages. Last year the F.D.A. shared with manufactures the belief that front-of-pack labeling is a promising way to help consumers make informed food choices. They also shared concerns related to their "research which found that with such labeling, people are less likely to check the Nutrition Facts label on the back or side panel of foods." Because of this, the front-of-package information they seek is more than just a symbol. Because of the risk of decreased use of nutrition information labeling, the F.D.A. is now encouraging manufactures share important nutritional information such as complete calorie per container especially for single serve food and snack items. Coca-Cola Co. began putting calorie counts on the front of most of their drinks but it highlighted a new problem related to calorie reporting and portion sizes. So how would front-of-package labeling relate to portion size nutrition?

Reports over the last week indicate the Food and Drug Administration is pushing manufactures on front-of-label nutrition information once again with some of these questions in mind. Many of the package serving sizes especially for snacks and individual servings is very small as more and more companies jump on the 100-calorie pack marketing bandwagon. In order to help make front-of-package labeling helpful and informative, the F.D.A. is interested in making serving sizes for foods such as breakfast cereals, snacks, and desserts more consistent with how Americans eat and with the way companies are packaging their products.

Many products have a serving size smaller than you would expect. If a single serving microwave soup contains 420 mg of sodium per serving but the complete and intended serving for the entire container provides 680 mg of sodium, the label is not helpful for consumers trying to make a quick but nutrition minded selection. The new push by the F.D.A. would not only push calorie and sodium information in easy to find front-of-package labeling, it would also encourage the labeling be for the intended portion size or in the case of this example the entire 14 oz container instead of an 8 oz serving size.

The F.D.A. will continue to look at the portion size issues while also encouraging voluntary front-of-package posting of key information. It is a careful balancing act since increasing serving size information in an attempt to help consumers get a better picture of what they are actually consuming could also send a message that eating more is acceptable and advised.

What do you think. Would changes in portion sizes related to nutrition information make a difference in how much you consume? Would having some of the information on the front of the package reduce your portion sizes or help you feel more informed? Is this an important area for the F.D.A. to focus in their desire to help consumers make healthier choices?

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Comments

I think that nutrition information on the front of the packaging will only help those of us who are more observant to start.

One of the things that I would like to see is labeling that shows the total calories for a can of soup. The soups that I take to work appear to be very low in calories until you look closely at the label and the total servings is 2. Report
CD4182099
It would definitely help me if the info was more clearly displayed....back or front doesn't really matter. How hard is it to turn a packet around? Report
People will read them or they won't. Just like they'll exercise or they won't...or they'll eat the right serving size or not. I don't know if front labeling will influence anyone's choices, but if it will, then I say go for it! Report
I'm for transparency and disclosure in marketing and advertising. I don't mind if the nutritional info is on the front back or side, so long as it is complete, legible, and realistic. I think fat's should be noted to one decimal point, given that trans fats are so bad for us.

But what I'd really like to see out of this is for wrapped goods like snack packs and energy bars to NOT put their info under the fold of the package, making it hard to read even if you remember to look before you open the package, usually tearing through the nutritional info. Report
If you are not a nutritional label reader, it doesn't matter where the label is. Just as long as the manufacturer are held accountable to what's actually in it and it does state nutritional info per serving size. We can decide if we want to eat the whole thing or just a serving size. Report
I seriously doubt the location of the nutrition info will matter. I do hope the portion size regulation happens. It's always frustrating to realize how small the serving sizes are on the labels, especially when something packaged to eat in one serving (like a microwave bowl of soup) is actually listed as 1.5 or 2 servings. Report
Healthy Choice has been putting calorie and fat counts on the fronts of their packaging for years. I use it as a quick "maybe or no" first cut when deciding whether to buy their product or a comparable product from a different manufacturer. However I always look at the back of the package to check sodium, fiber, and other statistics before I make a final decision.
Portion sizes are all over the map. Most people will expect that a frozen meal will be one serving (some are two), so I think they should be packaged that way. I'd like to see canned fruits and vegetables packaged in whole servings units (what's with 3.5 servings per can?). That way I can dole out the appropriate amount without having to dig out my scale or measuring cups.
Having said all this, I want to make one more point. I do NOT believe we should have Food Police! If I want to serve .5 cup portions and you want to serve .75 cup portions, I think we should both be able to do that without having someone looking over our shoulders. If manufacturer A wants to make a 4 oz portion and manufacturer B wants to make a 6 oz portion, that's fine too. The calorie, fat, and carbohydrate levels on the back of the package will allow the user to know what she/he is serving.
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MSTGREEN
Regardless of where the info is located, people will either read it or not. If we're too lazy to turn the containers around, we really are pitiful and pathetic. Portion sizes mean nothing to most, especially considering there are oftentimes multiple servings in one container. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't spend time measuring 1 serving from a 3.5 serving can of anything. We will continue to eat what we like when we like and as much as we like. The government just needs to make sure the individual ingredients aren't going to kill us. Report
COUGAR_CUB
As far as front labeling goes. I think it would be nice to have and would make it convenient to choose between a shelf full of options when shopping for things like cereal and salad dressings where there are a plethora of choices and time consuming to read every label. If they do that tho it should be bullet points (like they are doing on some cereals now) of the top nutritional info, but standardized so companies could not simply pick their favorites and show only fiber but meanwhile it's sky high in sodium or something and should include # of servings per container. (which in some cases could show value)

As for the serving size issue, I think the standard nutritional info on the side/back of the container should add another column and have everything per package, but only on products that would realistically be consumed by a single person in a single sitting. I know there are multiple servings in a box of cereal, but they make so many different sizes of bags of Doritos, most of which I will consume in a single setting if not paying attention. Report
What difference does it make if the label is on the front or back? Are we as a society getting so lazy that we can't even turn a package to read the back? I don't think it is the FDA's job to make sure we make healthy choices. What the FDA SHOULD be doing is making sure that the manufacturers are accurate in listing the ingredients. The FDA SHOULD ensure accurate serving sizes. The FDA SHOULD also be making sure that the ingredients are not lethal. What we decide to put in our bodies should be an individual decision otherwise the government controls us.

A quick summary of the nutrition information on the front will quickly become "loose" as to the guidelines and requirements. There is already falsification in the label on the back.

And serving sizes are distorted. Companies will put 3.5 servings in one can so that the calorie count will be lower and look "better" for you. Be smart about your own food choices and portions. Report
I think it would be wonderful to be able to have servings pre-packaged! Report
CD1514882
I would like to see better labeling as far as how much is really a serving. Maybe 2 columns, one for the whole product and one for what should be concidered one serving size. I would like to see a consumer friendly unit of measurement for the servings. 2 oz or 90 grams does not help moost people. One brand of cheese I buy gives a real easy to measure dimension for their serving size, 1.5 cm slice is easier to comprehend than 30 grams.

I don't think putting the nutrition label on the front would make much of a difference. If it too much of an effort to turn the box over to read the info, most are not going to sit there and comapre the front labels of products either.

Single serving products can sometimes be too small to be able to put everthing on them you would want. But those 100 cal. packs should be concidered 1 serving, not 2 and should be labeled as such. Labeling it as serves 2 is getting a bit misleading Report
If they move the nutrition info to the front, what will they put on the back? Aha! The brand label, to the back, where there's now room. So then we turn the package around...

Dumb. Can't we just settle for no more misleading front labels? Report
I don't often wear my reading glasses when shopping - so I've frequently made the mistake of picking up a snack and eating it, only to find that what I though was 1 serving was actually 3!

I think in addition to moving the nutritional info to the front, many companies need to flat out make this info BIGGER (see, like that). Especially for us baby boomers with aging eyes. Report
Convenience helps us make better choices- that is for sure. However, if we learn early on the meaning of the labels and the relationship to our health, perhaps the location of the label won't be as critical.

I'd like to see ALL restaurants have the basic nutritional facts on the menus. I tried to get this information at a local Sweet Tomatoes recently and the manage was very helpful. However, he had to pull out a big binder with the information and orally tell me what I wanted to know. Kind of a pain and rather time consuming. It did not encourage me to make any compaisons and better choices.

I'd also like to see less servings by GRAMS. I just don't have a "gram" size equivalent in my head. If we can measure it in a measuring cup, I want the serving size to be in a measuring cup or teaspoons/tablespoons. The lack of consistency in the serving size is misleading and frustrating. Report
VANANDEL
We need to know what we're eating. If a package is a single-serving and its actual contents are less than a serving, I need to know exactly what that package contains - I'm less concerned with a "normal" serving. But if a package contains more than a serving, then I want what I have today, which is what a "normal" serving is both in terms of nutrition but in size as well (cups, ounces, etc) as well as the number of servings contained in the package.

It's most important when a package is smaller. It's pretty obvious when I buy a big box of cereal that it contains more than one serving, but if it is close to one serving, then I need more information so I can choose more wisely. Report
I have made it a habit to always read the label very carefully. So, I will always do this. I am not sure that making changes to the label will make a difference for the majority of people. I know standardizing serving sizes would help me and make grocery shopping a little easier. Report
Being a ww for over 6 years now, I know a bout reading the label and checking for # of servings. I think it would be hand to see it right up front, but I truly doubt it will make that much of an impact on those who just don't care what or how much they eat. Report
I agree with some of the comments I've read here - why list calories for something you wouldn't realistically eat (like unpopped popcorn kernals)? Also, portion size and number of portions are printed too small. Unless you make a habit of reading nutrition labels, it's pretty easy to assume that the container you're grabbing is a single serving. I think printing the number of servings on the front of a package would be an eye-opener for a lot of people! I know many people who don't read the nutrition information - and you have to know they don't care about about that info when their shopping carts are filled with white bread, Twinkies, frozen foods, etc. If they really knew about nutrition and what's good/bad, would they buy those things? However, if they read on the front label that that bottle of chocolate milk is 3 servings rather than one (and 3 times the calories!), it might make them think about whether to drink the whole thing at once. Report
Everything I have seen tells me that so far "front of the package" labeling is really advertising in disguise. It's not complete enough information, and, as pointed out, isn't accurate enough for the package. The "small-print" information on the back, as is ALWAYS the case with small-print information, tells the more honest and revealing story. Nutritional labeling is like contracts--the big print giveth, the small print taketh away.

My complaint about the 'single-serving' pack is not the serving but all that extra packaging going into garbage and landfill. In addition to eating more healthily, we need to take responsibility for our garbage. BUY the big box; don't eat it all at one time. Plastic is plastic, bio-degradable or not. Cardboard still uses trees. The 100-calorie pack is handy, but extremely short-sighted environmentally. Report
I would love it if they standardized serving sizes. And for instant one meal packages the nutrition info should be given for the whole thing, not just a portion. Putting this info on the front of the box would be the best thing so you don't have to hunt for it and can compare with other products on the shelf too. Maybe it would encourage manufacturers to make healthier products! Report
JULIAS_CHILD
If the 'standard' serving size was appropriate and reflected what we really consume, I would abide by the nutritional information on the front of a package. But because this information only accounts for a small portion of what we eat, it often needs to be doubled (or tripled!). A good example is most breakfast cereals have a serving size of 3/4 cup to 1 cup, but we often eat much more than that; a cereal that boasts 120 calories a bowl is usually not 120 calories. Report
CD5785843
I think that before anyone jumps on the food packers for misleading labeling practices, we ought to take responsibility for our own consumption and read the nutrition information, no matter where on the box it is. I haven't heard this excuse often, but I have heard people complain that they wouldn't be fat if there had been information on the boxes or if the information had been presented better. Maybe the NI is confusing to some, but by law it must be there and if we as consumers are too lazy to whip out a pocket calculator before buying something that's not the fault of the companies who pack the items.

As for front-label nutrition information, I think that would be a step toward more people making healthier choices, but I don't blame the packaging companies for compelling us to make bad food choices with misleading serving sizes (although I never understood the point of putting 2.5 servings of anything in a container. Why not just level it off at 2 or 3?) It's all about marketing, because we all want more bang for our buck--i.e., the bigger container of food. As Americans become more health-minded more of these distributors may have to boost their sales by changing the rest of their packaging, most likely by getting into the single-serving, 100-calorie pack idea. But until their sales start to droop, its no one's fault but our own if we choose not to perform the exhausting task of flipping the container over and doing the math. Report

it would help me feel more informed,
but i don't want to eat a big portion at all.
portion sized items would be really great,
this would be a great area for the F.D.A.
to focus on.
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I think I will always turn the package around and read the nutrition label...I want to know everything about the product! Report
I agree that portion control will help with the amount of food people consume because most people do not realize alot of foods have multiple servings in the container and they consume the whole container. If the food were to have the correct portion for what is says on the label it may help to retrain years of bad eating and over eating a little at a time. Report
I was in the supermarket yesterday and noticed that some nutrition components were on the front of the cereal boxes. I would pick up the box and turn it around to read the labels anyway, but having the information on the front was certainly convenient. Report
I believe for the people who want to be aware of portion sizes this will be helpful. Or companies will now make single serving sizes and market them accordingly. Report
I think if people are concerned about the nutrition information, they will turn the container around and read it. Putting it on the front of a box isn't going to make people who don't care about it read it. It will make it easier for people who already check the nutrition info to see it but that isn't the point of it, right? Report
I think you are either a label reader or you aren't. It certainly would be more helpful if the labels were more easily read, but being a label reader myself, I always manage to find the label and decipher it no matter how little or hidden. Report
KIPPERJAZ
Have the producer put the printing in larger bolder print. I dont think it would make a big difference unless you're a member of spark people. People have it in their mind before going to the fridge or cupboard what they want or are craving and are going to eat or drink until that craving is satisfied. Report
I think its a good idea to try and tackle the problems people face with reading labels, etc., but I don't think it's going to make a big difference. Many individuals know what they want and are not going to really take the time to read the labels, even if they are right in front of their faces. It will help those that are on the verge and want to makes changes but are embarrassed to look at the labels in public. This will make it less challenging for them.
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MARSHA48
Yes, I would like to see Nutritional values on the front of labels BUT not in so small a print that you have to bring a magnifying glass with you and you wear glasses to boot. : ) Report
I think info on the front in print that is large enough to read and just basic info might help Report
It seems like more or different labeling won't change the real causes of obesity in our country. In fact, giving manufacturers more requirements to follow might serve to increase costs! I would still rely on the complete information for all macronutrients, not simply calories. So, Tanya, I would have to answer "no" to all three questions. Thanks for this interesting post! Report
Make the serving size realistic and make the print a little larger so we can read it! Report
I'm not sure putting info on the front of the package would make a lot of difference. Those who don't care still won't care, and those of us who do care are used to reading the label on the back. As for serving sizes, I think it would be nice to have an additional column showing nutrition info per container on something like a can of soup that most people would eat the whole thing. I don't necessarily think the existing info should go away, because it is a good way to compare one food to another if they are both using standard portion sizes like 8 oz, 1/2 cup, etc., and for a lot of foods some people might truly eat only the portion size given. Anything that provides the consumer with more (realistic) information to make healthier choices is a good thing, but marketing people will always find a way to make claims that are slightly misleading- maybe the truth, but not the whole truth. Report
I would love if the serving info was on the front. Sometimes when I hit up the vending machine at work I usually have to make 2 or 3 choices before I get the healthiest one. Report
Yes sometimes its a bit much to weed through all that stuff. Just make it plain and simple without a lot of adding and subtracting. When I pick up an item I want to know what is the total of everything at the beginning. Report
VRLILLIS
Absolutely, changes in the serving size would change the way I eat. I ALWAYS read the labels before I purchase food or eat, so the changes would effect me. Report
Easier labels would be GREAT! Report
Totally think they should do this Report
SHELLY8AND8
I think ther should be standard "real" serving sizes.. let theperson who is eating it decide.. Men are allowed a larger serving size because of the calories they are burning on an average.. It is really up to the person who is eating it to decide on what is their serving size. Not the Federal goverment.. Quit putting guidelines on the makers and put them on yourselves!! Report
ILENEJ
Yes, I agree it would be nice that the portion control be more visible and amount for the whole can. It would really help with sodium and calorie count. I don't always have my calulator with me to figure the amount, it would just be faster to just glance at it and know what you are getting. where it is doesn' matter. Report
i have learned to first look at the serving size and if it is very small i'll just double it. Report
I agree that they should standardize the sizes and make the sizes realistic. Besides, it makes me suspicious of the product if the serving is really small, like they're trying to avoid reporting the presence of components such as trans-fat by limiting the portion size. Report
I was surprized to learn that a container of microwavable soup is 2 servings. Is so i can take it towork and have some to bring back home? Report
I think standardizing the serving sizes could be highly beneficial as the companies would not be able to trick people into thinking they were eating a lower calorie food just because the size is unrealistically small.

However, putting the labels on the front will do nothing. Label readers have no problem turning a package around to see ingredients and nutrition information. It's not like we don't know where it is! If a person cares so little about their diet that they can't turn a package over to see what they're really eating, putting the nutrition info on the front isn't going to make a bit of difference. Report
I read the nutrition label before I even the unit price. I wish that all labels had side-by-side nutrition facts of the package values and the single serving values.

I found some of this type of info on select products, however not all. The next trend. Report
SOFAHUGGER
I thin front of the package labeling is a good ideal as long as it is for a REALISTIC SERVING and it is noted, BOLDLY, how many servings are in the package. I dislike the sneakiness of something that looks like one serving but is actually 2, if you missed that when reading the label then you are eating double what you thought. What would really be niche is if we could standardize servings, Soups all the same size servings, same for cereals, pasta, if we are buying an individual entree then have it be a single serving in the package, no sneaking in 2 just cause it fits the package. Report
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