Building a better Nutrition Facts Panel

by Keith Nunes
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COLLEGE PARK, MD. — Two changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel have the potential to make the information presented easier to understand, according to research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The changes include dual column information that details single serving and total package nutrition information, and declaring nutritional information for the entire container.

“F.D.A. commissioned this experimental study to look at whether different ways of presenting the serving size and nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts Panel might help consumers,” said Amy M. Lando, a consumer science specialist with the F.D.A. “In particular, we were interested in studying products that have two servings per container but that are customarily consumed in a single eating occasion.”

The research method involved an on-line study of 9,000 participants to measure consumer accuracy in using modified versions of the Nutrition Facts Panel and to assess their perceptions of how useful the label was.

Study participants evaluated nine modified Nutrition Facts Panels and the current format for four fictitious products, two frozen meals and two grab-and-go bags of chips. The labels were classified into three groups. The first group used a single column to display information for products with two servings per container. The second group used versions of a dual-column format to display information for products with two servings per container, and the third format used a single column format that listed the contents of the product as a single, large serving.

The research also looked at whether changes in formatting, such as enlarging the font for the declaration of calories, removing the information on the number of calories from fat, or changing the wording for the serving size declaration would be helpful to consumers.

The researchers concluded consumers could more accurately assess the number of calories or amount of fat or other nutrients per serving and in the entire package when a single, large serving per container format or dual-column format was used.

“This research is just one step in understanding how some potential food label modifications might help consumers make better decisions,” said Serena C. Lo, a consumer science specialist with the F.D.A. “Ideally, we would like to see how these labels perform in a more realistic setting, such as in a grocery store, with actual packaged food as opposed to large labels on a computer screen.”
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