What’s next for nutrition label changes, and how has the food industry responded?

Nutrition labels are one of the most accessible and influential sources of food information for people across the country. Whether consumers are comparing labels in the supermarket or drawing on the advice of health coaches and educators, these labels provide an important connection between foods and their nutritional values.

Nutrition label changes can have a major impact on health professionals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition online and prospective students interested in pursuing a degree. With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set to enforce a new nutrition facts label, an understanding of what these changes will mean is vital for professionals and students alike. Prospective students interested in earning a Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition entrepreneurship online should understand how these changes will affect nutritional information. They should also consider how a variety of factors influence labeling standards and how this component of food packaging can influence the dietary choices of the clients they will interact with after graduation.

Revision of the nutrition and supplement facts labels on food

Food producers large and small are tasked with quickly adjusting to regulations the FDA originally published in 2016. These nutrition label changes require compliance from food manufacturers with more than $10 million in annual sales by the start of 2020, and from businesses with less than $10 million in annual sales by 2021. That means manufacturers will soon enter a period of significant change in terms of their nutrition labels. Health professionals should keep a close eye on these developments to keep especially relevant information in mind and help their clients in the most effective way possible.

A look at the most significant nutrition label changes

Understanding the nutrition label changes is vital for health professionals. The most influential changes include:

  • Larger, bolder type used to list foundational nutritional information like calories and serving size.
  • Serving sizes that are more in line with the amount of food people tend to realistically consume from a given package at one time.
  • Updated daily values for the key nutrients listed on each label.
  • A new line item listing added sugars, providing additional context.
 

“New to the Nutrition Facts label is ‘added sugar’ below total sugar and percent Daily Value (DV) from sugar,” says Simin Levinson, MS RD CSSD, Clinical Associate Professor and Academic Program Lead, Nutrition. “This helps the consumer to see how much sugar is naturally occurring in the food and how much has been added in processing. Calories per serving are in larger font making it easier for consumers to see. The FDA is working to make the Nutrition Facts panels less confusing for the consumer.”

Beyond listing added sugars, which is especially important information when balancing caloric limits with effective consumption of core nutrients, there are other relevant changes of which health and nutrition professionals should be mindful. Vitamin D and potassium daily values must now be listed which replace Vitamin A and C. Recent research has shown more Americans to be deficient in Vitamin D and potassium. Calories from fat will be removed, the FDA says, based on research determining it’s more important to track the types of fat consumed than the number of calories from fat in general. Updated calculations will offer more accurate information about commonly listed nutrients such as sodium and dietary fiber.

These new nutrition facts labels can assist health professionals as they discuss balanced diets in general and their clients’ specific nutrient needs. Because the FDA made many of the label changes to align with research regarding nutritional concerns, it should be easier for professionals to identify specific nutrients and percentages to which their clients should pay special attention.

“Nutrition professionals themselves can stay abreast of the latest changes to the label and explain these changes to their clients in an understandable way,” says Maureen McCoy, MS RD, Nutrition Undergraduate Degree Coordinator and Lecturer of Nutrition. “The label itself can be overwhelming, so the nutrition professional can lead the client to the part of the label that may be most useful to them.”

Industry insights into the new changes to nutrition labels

Consumer reading a nutrition label.

Health professionals’ responses to the new labelling rules have been generally positive, as the changes are based on recent research insights and attempts to make information clearer to consumers. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, highlighted the benefits that come with increased transparency, noting that robust labeling makes it easier for consumers to identify balanced, nutritious foods. It also encouraging manufacturers to offer healthier, more wholesome options.

However, there are also limitations to consider with the new nutrition facts label. There is only so much information that can be listed on a label, even an expanded one that features a careful design. Political considerations can also restrict the effectiveness of nutrition labels, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy indicated that food industry lobbying groups have used a provision of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) to argue for restricting the use of front of package nutrition labeling. The USMCA is a proposed replacement for the current North American Trade Agreement. It has been agreed upon by North American leaders, but is not yet ratified in the U.S., leaving its enforcement and the results of lobbying, in relation to nutrition facts labels, current unclear, but worth considering.

Politics and other factors outside of the informed decisions of health and medical professionals have an influence on nutritional regulations that can make food labeling less clear to consumers. Lobbying on the part of the sugar industry regarding the new “added sugar” line, for example, is partially responsible for the delay in implementation of the new nutrition facts label. Additionally, labels can provide only limited nutritional information even in the best cases. Health professionals can use their education to inform their clients about more in-depth nutritional information as well as advocate for additional clarifications in labelling by regulatory authorities.

“One of the challenges of nutrition facts [labelling] is that the serving size may not be consistent among similar foods,” ASU Professor Levinson says. “For example, one brand of cereal may have a serving size of 1/2 cup, and another for 3/4 cup and another for 1 cup. This can make it confusing for the consumer when comparing labels. Nutrition professionals can help guide federal policies for more consistent serving sizes on labels and claims made on food packages. For example, a food package may state ‘made with whole grains,’ which gives the impression that it is a healthful food, when refined grains may make up a much larger percentage of the ingredients than whole grains.”

The value of earning a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition entrepreneurship online

A nutritionist and client during a discussion.

The upcoming updates to nutritional labeling standards should help individuals make more informed decisions when addressing basic nutritional needs. However, these labels can’t replace the guidance provided by a knowledgeable nutrition professional. Students interested in helping others achieve nutrition-related goals and develop more insight into the connections between food and health should keep the value of a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition entrepreneurship online in mind.

Students in leading Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition programs develop a variety of abilities that draw on established nutritional knowledge, cutting-edge research and powerful modern technology to provide the best possible outcomes for clients. They also learn about factors that can influence food choices and important nutritional considerations, such as human communication and the impact of the environment and policy on food security and community-level health. With this strong knowledge base and the ability to connect specific information to the concerns and health issues of clients, graduates can begin seeking work in their chosen field and pursue an advanced degree focused on food and nutrition.

With nutrition label changes only touching on the nutritional content of food, health professionals have a key role to play in assisting clients and providing more personalized information and guidance when it comes to dietary decisions. Learn more about how you can develop the educational foundation necessary to fill such crucial roles by earning a Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition entrepreneurship online.

Sources:
ASU Online – Online Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship
The Lancet – Food nutritional information: transparency and public health
Center for Science in the Public Interest – Consumer and Health Groups, Researchers Urge Trump Not to Misuse Trade Talks to Undermine Nutrition Labeling
FDA – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label
FDA – FDA In Brief: FDA issues final rule to extend compliance date on updated Nutrition Facts label and Serving Size rules to allow industry more time to make required changes
Government Publishing Office – Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 103 / Friday, May 27, 2016 / Rules and Regulations
IATP - New NAFTA limits labeling for food and workplace chemicals

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