Dietitians recognize Whole Grain Stamp

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Whole Grain Stamp is the third most recognized front-of-package symbol among members of the American Dietetic Association, according to a survey published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The stamp was introduced in January 2005 as a way to help consumers better identify products containing whole grains.

The survey, results of which were analyzed by Krista Yoder Latortue, public policy coordinator for the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association, and Jennifer A. Weber, manager of national nutrition policy, policy initiatives and advocacy in the A.D.A.’s Washington office, included 5,553 responses from A.D.A. members in 2008 and 3,687 responses in 2009.

In both 2008 and 2009, approximately 9 in 10 A.D.A. members said they were aware of symbols or icons on the front of food packages that communicate nutrition information to consumers, and approximately 42% of those surveyed said they instruct clients to look for front-of-package symbols.

According to the 2009 survey, the most recognized front-of-package symbols were the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark, at 83%, the 3-A-Day by the National Dairy Council, at 79%, and the Whole Grain Stamp, at 77%. The symbols also were the three symbols that A.D.A. members said most accurately reflect the nutritional value of a product (59%; 47.4%; and 46.8%, respectively).

The most common front-of-package symbol A.D.A. members reported promoting to their clients was the Whole Grain Stamp, at 68%. The finding drew applause from the Whole Grains Council.

“For all of us at Oldways and the Whole Grains Council, this report feels like winning the New Hampshire presidential primary, or bringing home a report card with all A’s,” wrote Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the W.G.C., in an April 11 blog. “We’re delighted to know that so many R.D.s — the health professionals most involved with giving daily food advice to Americans — find the Whole Grain Stamp a useful tool.”

In addition to the findings on front-of-package labeling, Ms. Latortue and Ms. Weber examined participants’ responses to grocery store shelf price tag nutrition profiling systems. They found that the most recognized systems were Guiding Stars found in stores such as Hannaford (41%), followed by Healthy Ideas found in Giant Food and Stop & Shop (40%), and NuVal found in Hy-Vee and Meijer (36%).

In general, A.D.A. members surveyed in both 2008 and 2009 overwhelmingly (89%) expressed the need for a single, uniform symbol program, but the results were split when asked whether front-of-package symbols and shelf price tag labeling should be voluntary or mandatory. A shade more than 58% said the labeling should be mandatory, the survey noted.

In the event a uniform labeling system was made mandatory, 59% said the system should be based on an overall score that considers both the nutrients to eat more and less of, while 45% said the system should include MyPyramid and/or Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations, and 27% said the system should focus on nutrients to eat more of, such as whole grains and fiber.

“These studies indicate that the majority of A.D.A. members are aware of F.O.P. labeling,” the authors wrote. “Most A.D.A. members responding to the survey would prefer a single uniform F.O.P. labeling system, while a smaller majority believes the system should be mandatory.

“Introduction of new F.O.P. nutrition symbols may slow down now that the Food and Drug Administration is developing proposed regulations that would define the nutritional criteria that would have to be met by manufacturers making F.O.P. or shelf label claims concerning the nutritional quality of a food, whether the claim is made in text or in symbols.

“Research to study consumer understanding and use of nutrition symbols is now under way as the federal government considers how to move forward on effective F.O.P. nutrition labeling. The F.D.A. announced plans for research that will focus on how consumers use and understand various types of F.O.P. labeling and shelf-tag systems, including those that use one symbol to summarize nutritional attributes and systems that feature or rate foods as being low, medium, or high in specific nutrients, similar to the traffic light system in the United Kingdom.”

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