An appropriately designed system might be useful for determining products that may be marketed to children, an issue that can be revisited in Phase II.
Conclusion 2: The committee supports the goal and purposes of front-of-package systems announced by the Food and Drug Administration in April 2010 and concludes that the most useful primary purpose of front-of-package rating systems and symbols would be to help consumers identify and select foods based on the nutrients most strongly linked to public health concerns for Americans.
An ideal system would allow consumers to identify the amount of calories per serving and the serving size as well to compare and evaluate amounts of targeted nutrients present in different products both within and across food categories. Such a system may also encourage food and beverage manufacturers to reformulate products to meet nutrient criteria targeted by FOP systems. Two system types could fulfill these purposes—nutrient-specific systems and summary indicator systems based on nutrient thresholds in which all food categories had the same nutrient thresholds.
As discussed above, the variation in FOP systems has led to numerous questions, including how sound the criteria are that are used to determine which products are the more nutritious choices. The committee considered these and a number of other questions in its review of existing systems. In developing conclusions on nutrients that should be included or excluded and options for setting criteria, the committee weighed potential conclusions against the guiding principles in Chapter 1. Conclusions 3 through 5 reflect the committee’s assessment of which pieces of nutrition information it would be reasonable to include or exclude from FOP systems at the current time.
Conclusion 3: Regardless of system type, it would be useful to declare calorie and serving size information prominently in front-of-package symbols.
As discussed in Chapter 4, obesity and overweight, which are caused by calorie consumption in excess of energy expenditure, are now a critical public health concern that affects the population. Given that overweight and obesity pose an increased risk for numerous diseases and morbidities, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee encourages all Americans to know their energy needs as a means of avoiding inappropriate weight gain (DGAC, 2010). Including total calories in nutrition rating system symbols could be one tool for emphasizing the importance of calories in the American diet. In addition, such information might help consumers select lower-calorie foods, consume lower quantities of higher-calorie foods, and track the number of calories consumed per day and the relative contribution of various foods consumed.
Including a more prominent display of calories within nutrition rating symbols would also provide consistency between packaged and restaurant foods. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,1 signed into law in March 2010, amends the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require chain restaurants to provide access to nutrition information for standard menu items. Restaurants with 20 or more outlets are required to post calories on menus, menu boards (including drive-thrus), and food display tags. Similarly, vending machines operated by large distributors are required to have calorie information displayed for vended products. Including calories on FOP systems for packaged foods could complement these new requirements.
Providing serving size information would also give context to the amount of food associated with the calories per serving displayed as part of an FOP symbol. Serving size information in an easy-to-understand format consistent with current dietary practices may help consumers do a better job of visualizing appropriate serving sizes and put their servings into the context of the other foods and beverages they are consuming.