The second phase of this study focuses on assessing consumer use and understanding of FOP symbols. The committee will draw on this first-phase report as it considers (1) which systems and symbols are most effective with consumer audiences and best promote health, (2) how to maximize their use, and (3) the potential benefits of a single, standardized front-label food guidance system regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
The approach to the task includes gathering information from relevant consumer behavior literature and experts in relevant fields, including new research on FOP undertaken by FDA as well as from available research from the United States and internationally. Information-gathering will include a workshop in October 2010 on Consumer Behavior Research and Front of Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols—What do consumers know, understand, and use? Questions of interest to the committee are given in Chapter 7. The committee will be attentive to research related to consumer literacy and numeracy, as well as usability of labels by various subgroups in the population including children and adolescents. The report of the second phase is due in fall 2011.
No front-of-package system is perfect—each has strengths and limitations that must be weighed against the purposes of FOP systems. Given current public health needs, FOP systems may have the greatest potential benefit if the nutrition components included are limited to those most closely related to prominent public health conditions. As implied throughout this report, decisions about which nutrients to include in FOP systems and about the underlying nutrition criteria would benefit from grounding in nutrition science as based on current consensus documents on the dietary needs of the U.S. population. Because nutrition science and labeling regulations change, it would be useful to consider developing a formalized process for reassessment of a system’s nutrient criteria. Further, to ensure that labeled products actually meet FOP nutrition criteria, it will be important that the criteria be transparent and publicly available, with analytical detections methods included.
Additionally, research is needed to determine the most effective way of presenting the ratings to consumers so they can make food choices that contribute to a healthy diet. As noted, some research is currently being conducted by the FDA, academic institutions, and industry and can factor into future FOP system development and adjustments. The committee welcomes such information and data as it gathers information for the second phase.