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Will You Have A Gold Star Shopping Plan?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last month I shared information about the new voluntary Facts Up Front package labeling system proposed by the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) and the FMI (Food Marketing Institute). I also mentioned that the IOM (Institute of Medicine) would be providing their consensus report and recommendations as well. Well, the IOM has released their final report and recommendations for front-of-package nutrition rating systems and symbols to help promote healthier food choices. It looks like instead of playing the game of red light, green light, they would rather give us gold stars.

The IOM report recommends going away from front-of-package systems that only provide fact based information. This is largely because they provide no guidance or interpretation regarding the healthfulness of the product based on the nutrition facts provided. Instead, they recommend a simple visual that would allow consumers to make healthier selections without additional reading or interpretation. The IOM recommends the FDA develop a point system consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that focuses specifically on the saturated and trans fats, sugars and sodium content of the food or beverage. The higher the point value, the healthier the product is thought to be. The point system would transfer into zero to three symbols such as stars or check marks. The belief is that the consumer would be able to interpret quickly the nutritional value of a product by the number of symbols. Consumers might find no stars, check marks, or symbols on a potato chips bag, two on raisin bran flakes cereal, and three on whole grain bread.
The American Dietetic Association applauds the IOM report and recommendations especially if the symbols are integrated with nutrition facts and appear in a consistent location on all product labels. It is possible for the symbols recommended in the IOM report to work with the Facts Up Front nutrition information highlights since they both focus predominantly on calories per serving, fat, sodium, and sugars. It is unclear if FDA and private industry will collaborate to merge aspects of each but the decision for implementation now resides with the Food and Drug Administration.
Do you think a zero to three stars visual on product packages would help you make healthier food and beverage choices when you are shopping for groceries?

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I don't think it would necessarily help me sinced I can read a nutrition lable, however it could ceertainly help a lot of people out there that have not taken the time to read up on the matter. Report
I am not against it as long as it is truthful and they leave on the other nutritional data. I may be helpful for some that are beginning their journey. I am addicted to reading labels now but I am two years into my lifestyle. Report
Hear, hear! I agree with CSMNETC. Eating well is NOT THAT HARD and I don't understand why the media are hell-bent on convincing us that we are too stupid to feed ourselves properly! Report
I like the gold star idea. A grocery store in my area does something similar with a point value and higher point values are better for you. Its just on the price label on the shelf. i definitely noticed it had some impact on my shopping choices. Report
Not to sound like a snob, but I think I will use my own judgement as to whether a food is healthy or not. I suppose they aren't planning to use the star system for whole foods like fruit, veggies, etc? Report
I think the stars idea is a good start. I will still read labels as well. Report
no; i would still read the nutrition label; the product might be low in carb but high in sodium; we need to be able to decide Report
Just so long as they keep the nutritional information and hopefully start requiring that potassium content be listed, I could care less about stars, etc. Report
Though I'm not surprised that our government is "dumbing down" the labeling -- since nearly everything written these days is predicated on the idea that the average citizen is just too stupid to think for himself/ herself -- I resent the whole idea of replacing factual information with some offical agency's rating system. Please leave the detailed information alone so I can make my own choices based on that information!! - Maryjean
I agree, without serving size, calories per serving and percentages of fats, sugars and proteins it doesn't have a lot of meaning. Report
As long as the nutritional label stays on, I don't care Report
I imagine that for some buyers, who don't want to expend much effort in understanding their foods, this shortcut might help them make slightly better choices. I doubt that I'll pay attention to it.
Frankly, I don't trust the FDA to decide what's healthy for me. As far as the FDA is concerned, consumers take a back seat to the big pharma and industrial food industries.
These are the people who threatened to sue cherry growers for making unauthorized health claims when the growers cited a scientific study identifying health benefits of the anthocyanins in cherries.
These are the people that banned sales of a Vitamin B6 supplement, because a pharmaceutical company wanted to develop it as a drug.
Leave the facts on the labels (such as they are, since they too are defined by the FDA and carefully manipulated by the manufacturers). But you can spare me the FDA's purchased opinion. Report
I'm a label-reading kinda gal too, but I do see a lot of benefit for those who are not, as CoutoureLady indicated. However, I would not approve of dropping the nutrition data, nor abbreviating the data and substituting a grading system. Often the most conscientious of us will sometimes select a less nutritious product but draw the line at some one or more nutrients such as sodium, cholesterol, etc. Report
A local supermarket has had a 'star' system for highlighting nutritional value in products for some time now. I don't rely on it as such, but I think it is a helpful reminder. I usually buy the same products, the ingredients of which and nutritional values of which I am already familiar. Anything new gets a close reading of ingredients and nutritional value. I don't rely on someone else's evaluation of any product. Report
It seems gimmicky to me. Just give me factual nutritional information and a complete list of ingredients, and I'll make my own decisions. Report
Star does not work for me,I want full Nutrition data on the labels that I can read it, if I can't read I am not going to buy it. Report
I "ditto" JuneBug's post.

I don't think there is some kind of conspiracy going on, but stars, checks and fireworks don't mean diddly to me. If I can't read the nutritional information, I won't buy the product - it's that simple. Report
I always read the nutrition info before I buy. The three stars might help, but I'll still read the nutrition info. Report
While trans fat is something to beware of, I don’t believe that saturated fat is. I would rather want to know if a product has polyunsaturated fat since that type of fat has been shown to impair the immune system and cause cancer. Also, since sodium has no apparent affect on me, sodium information is irrelevant to me. If whole grain bread is going to get three marks, then I know I’ll have to look at the Nutrition Facts on the back instead of relying on front labeling. Grain of any kind has proved to be a negative for me. It looks to me like this rating system will be useless to me. Report
They can put stars,checks, bells and whistles on the front of the package, as long as the nutritional label is still on the package so I can get an informed reading of what I am buying. I cook almost everything from scratch, but still rely on some frozen and canned products to make a meal. If a person is really interested in the nutritional content, they will read the label. I would never buy something just because of a star rating. Report
I think it'll help. It may be training-wheels-level stuff for me, as I've been at this for quite some time, but for those who haven't had to pay much attention to the nutrient content of what they eat, it will be a positive step toward greater awareness. Report
Healthier for who? Will 3 stars mean it's just low fat or just low calories-will it mean it's high in fiber or do they care about that? I wouldn't probably pay a lot of attention to stars on a label-I would be reading the nutrition label to see if it had what I need. Report
And the stars may be better than colors- there are many colorblind folks ! Report
It could be an advantage, but I am concerned that the "Meals by Monsanto" and "Dishes By DuPont" and other processed foods that are using Genetically Modified (GMO) Foods will be pushing to get the 3 star for things that might be healtfully prepared but using GMO ingredients. They've just introduced GMO sweet corn that will look all pretty and "perfect" but what happens when "Frankenfoods" goes crazy and we're left sicker than we were to start with? And we won't necessarily know it. So if they plan to do the 3 star or 4 star to indicate purity of foods as well as in the processing (not using trans fats or entirely too much sugar or HFCS that sort of thing), that might be a good thing (since not every one is going to be reading up on the latest "advances" in food quality, production, etc. But for those who are actually growing their own foods, they know where their seed is coming from, and they are preparing the foods that they've grown, then this system will be meaningless, I'm sure...

I personally would still want all the nutritional info. Really, it couldn't hurt for them to pimp that info up some more, because many of the green foods, for example, don't look like much in terms of fiber or sugars or proteins already required on the nutritional info, but are super rich in the minerals and vitamins that may not be one of the four basics (A, C, Calcium & Iron) that are already sort of required on nutritional labels. I'd like to know and/or be reminded of that info as well, when shopping (even for raw produce where the labels are not applied to each piece of fruit or veggie!)... Report
Mostly, I cook from scratch, so the information would not be of much use to me. I do check ingredients when buying premade products, but also do not want the government telling me what and what not to eat. Am I not responsible for myself? Report
No, it will not help my family. I have children that must eat gluten free along with both of my daughters being allergic to soy and several other foods.
I still need to read ingredients completely. I also resent the government feeling they know what is good for my family. I would prefer it if they focused on the childrens lunches at school and sending home complete menus with food ingredients would be more helpful to me, also offering more vegetarian choices at the schools. My kids didn't feel green salads every day was enough to satisfy them. And what about children with milk or moral issues with dairy? Are there not other nutritious drinks the schools can offer besides water? Report
I think this combined with full nutritional information on the back is a good idea. Then people have all the information to make a good informed decision from all the info, but it is also easier to make a better decision when in a hurry.

My only concern would be that the system loses the all things in moderation message. Taking the example of three stars for wholegrain bread - of course this is a good choice for bread, but eating a whole loaf is not.

I think pushing portion sizes and measuring should be a really important part of health marketing. Report
My only problem with ALL of these programs is that manufacturers figure out how to "scam the system". I've seen it with WW products over the years. Each time that WW tweaks their points system ( about every two years), the manufacturers change their formulation to get the lowest point value (good) possible. The nutrition doesn't improve, in fact sometimes it declines, but the product still sells because shoppers are too lazy to look at the back of the box. In my opinion if the shopper isn't willing to look at the FDA food label, then they aren't going to be motivated by the stars/checks/whatever system. Report
My concern here is that by ONLY focusing on those "undesirable" things in foods and rating them on that, they are drawing attention away from the "desirable" things such as vitamins, minerals, Omega-3s etc. It's too easy to look at a cup of milk and say it's high in fat (2%) but then we are missing out on the vitamins and minerals it supplies also. In my opinion, it's too simplified because it only focuses on those things and not the "whole picture" of the food. Report
I think the star is okay as long as they keep the nutrition information. I am using the Weight Watcher's program and need four dietary points of information - just checked out your soup article and notice that three of the Weight Watcher's four points were used, but not the carbohydrates. But a star could point you to the possibly better choices for whatever program one is on Report
Better for who? How do they know what nutrition I am looking for? SOme people need less sodium, or sugar,etc.. If you have teh brains to get to teh store, you are perfectly capable of reading a nutrition chart. Everybody needs to learn content percentages. Yet another Big Brother tactic, condescending and nervy.
Children do not need yet another lesson in life taken away to make it easier to get them to comply. Life is a learning process, our brains need to figure things out for our individual needs. If you can count to ten, you can read a label with numbers that pertain to you as an individual. I think they are practicing the Peter Principle. Report
I agree with people who don't want commercail/political interests trying to do their thinking for them; I also agree that some sort of visul system can be helpful. The fact that this system is generated by those with a vested interest means it is not a balanced and healthy way of deciding what to eat. it focusses purely on a couple of 'negative' attributes, but there is no information regarding whether there is anything positive in the food at all. You could NOT put together a healthy eating plan based on this system, but you could still eat a pile of non-nutritive laboratory made chemical sludge with the label 'food'. Report
No, this system wouldn't help me make better choices. I find it insulting that these associations think the American public is both fat and stupid. People can read the packages already. I believe people overeat for many reasons; I doubt that ignorance is a major factor.
I value your opinion as a nutrition professional, Tanya. What do you think about all of these labels, graphics, and systems?
I think it would be another helpful tool. This would be one that I could easily see my husband using when I make a grocery list and send him to the store. I still like to read the nutrition labels but the other idea must make the trip to the store go faster. Report
I have to make a second comment. Many of you are over looking the fact that simplicity can be good for people less educeted and less interested in nutrition. So long as we have our nutrition label we are all good to go.
HOWEVER, I can honestly say that seeing this in place in the store here I have even witnessed children taking an interest in the stars. Wake up! this could really augment the nutritional labels and poeple who choose not to read or cannot read the label has a primer in what is good for them.
I will tell you this store has Nutritionists who are in the store and available to their customers. They have their own healthy choices magazine and coupons for star items in the magazine. I have taken their courses even though this is not my go to shopping store. This is the HANNAFORD grocery chain and I assure you I have seen this work. If children can be raised on a BEST-BETTER-GOOD-NOSTARS system on the package front and we still have what we already have. PLEASE keep it simple and we might get the idea of better nutrition to the masses it could help. Lets not be too selfish here. We have the benefit of better education I am sure. Lets give the stars a universal chance PLEASE!. Pat in Maine. Report
100% agreement with WILD4STARS & JIBBIE49.

Moreover, I wonder whether this way of thinking from the food industry (we will make it simpler for you, we will be your big daddy, decide for you) is a result of people getting actually too knowledgeable about the food. "Hey, dude, they don't wanna buy our junk for we have to reveal that it actually is a junk at the back of the package... could we get rid of this somehow???"

Please people, trusting recommendations of food industry on healthy food choices is like getting an advice on your finances from a money lender :) They need you to be fat, to consume, consume, consume... until you crack :D Report
Everybody has a different interpretation of what's healthy. Food manufacturers have long been misleading about healthy, natural, wholesome - all the buzz words that make something SOUND healthy. There's no reason they won't be misleading with their check marks or stars. For me, I'll still choose to read the ingredients. Ingredients that the food manufacturers deem healthy, may not be on my list of things to put in my body. Report
Stars won't bother me as long as the current nutritional info is still on the package. I have juvenile diabetes and I need to know the carbohydrates and other nutritional info to dose my insulin. I wonder whether the start could be misleading. I use very small quantities of high fat foods like nut butters and cheese in conjunction with other foods. Alone they probably wouldn't get gold stars. But mixed with other foods (like a tsp of PB on half a banana) they are very healthy and useful. Report
I wouldn't care. I read the nutrition information anyway, the ingredient list, and decide for myself.
Peanut butter is one of the most healthy sources for protein-fat-carbs for me. However, it is heavy on calories, so over eating it is unhealthy. So how many start would you give for it?
Cucumber is tasty, and low in calories. However, eating a cucumber offsets the fiber balance for the day. So how many stars?
I have seen so many diet systems with points, and ratings, and classification. None of them worked for me.
What worked, is counting the calories for weight loss, and reading the labels to eat what I want. Report
I want the facts....the numbers.
(Also, some more pressure on the numbers reported to be more accurate would be nice.)

The stars - I still wouldn't like it but scale of 10 might be somewhat informative but 3 is stupid/useless. Overly simple and each category is way too broad. Also the way they assign point scale and weight the factors may work for some but may not work for many people.
I actually find the 3 star idea insulting. If they don't think we understand the numbers then educate us. Stop treating us all as if we have IQs under 20 and no education beyond 2nd grade and no ability to learn anything more. Report
Do both, but if it is one or the other then lets keep the nutrition data thats on the back. We need that. So let the stars go. Report
No, not at all, since WHO would be deciding what was appropriate? I want the FULL information on the nutrition label as it is now. Company LIE all the time with labels on the FRONT of packages to get people to buy the food, as the front is the marketing part. Report
I read the labels - in detail when I shop. I wouldn't want to lose that information in favor of a star system. As long as it would augment current labeling, and not replace it I would be ok with it. Report
This rating has been in place in one of our supermarkets for over 2 years now. It is actually very good and I see it being used often.It is easier for people to see the good better best and if no stars that is not good nutrition. Yes it is helping people who frankly have NO INTEREST in the fine print on the nutrition label.
HOWEVER I do and many of us use the nutrition label to input our food on the tracker. I would hope that the Nutrition information would not be removed altogether. That would be a big loss for those of us who rely on its information.
I much prefer the label, back or front but I think we will be short-changed. I see the label becoming simpler to the point it does not give us who want it the FULL information as it does now.
That will not be progress, it would be problematic.
Pat in Maine,
The star system is great..frankly the red light green light would be fine too..I live with someone who had a stroke, has some problems processing info and the visuals would help so much so I'm grateful for anything done! Report
I would have to say that the times when I am on the go at the grocery store, the star system would be helpful. But, on the other hand, I think it may be another facet the gov. may be taking to dumb us down even more, so that we don't/won't take time to read the lables carefully and possibly become even more dependent on them to tell us what we should and shouldn't eat. I wonder what criteria would actually determine the different star ratings. That may yet to be determined. If the gov. can get us to just depend on the star rating, then they may get to the point later in the future of our children or grand-children to do away with nutrient lables all together and just look for the stars. Just a thought, and my two cents worth. However, it does look like the gov. is trying to simplify things so those who can't read don't have too. Report
I think I'd like a star system. If there are 5 choices of the product I want, I could look at the star to determine which one I'd prefer. If there are 2 or more with stars, then I could start comparing, other information and price. Report
SparkPeople has really helped me to make healthier choices at the store, but a star system would help if I were on the go. I also think this would really help the mainstream people realize what healthy choices are available. Report
This sounds like an awesome idea. I really hope the FDA will actually keep the consumers in mind when making their decision instead of big business. I also think that having a 3 star system would make companies more likely to improve the health content of some of their foods. Report
Maybe - if I'm in a hurry and just grabbing something on the way to check out. But I use the nutrition data on labels a lot when shopping. I'm hoping the coming changes help protect us more than ever as we make food choices. Report
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