Group takes aim at front-of package labels

by Eric Schroeder
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OAKLAND, CALIF. — Prevention Institute, a group focused on prevention as a way to promote wellness, has called for mandatory Food and Drug Administration standards for front-of-package labels after a new study found 84% of products examined didn’t meet what the group characterized as basic nutritional standards.

The study, “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food,” was released Jan. 19 through advocacy coalition Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments and included information on 58 “better-for-you” products that are being marketed to children under the age of 12. The products — including Campbell’s Cars Shaped Pasta, Kid Cuisine Pop Star Popcorn Chicken, Apple Jacks and Capri Sun Juice Drinks — came from the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative’s product list, and the Prevention Institute used the Institute of Medicine’s front-of-package label definition to identify products.

“We did the study because we want to be sure that what parents see is what they get,” said Juliet Sims, nutritionist and author of the study. “The results shocked us. More often than not, companies are telling parents food is healthy when it’s not.”

Among the study’s findings were:

• Eighty-four per cent of products didn’t meet basic nutritional standards for sugar, fat, saturated fat, sodium and fiber derived from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and National Academies of Science;
• More than half (57%) of the study products qualified as high sugar, and 95% of products contained added sugar;
• More than half (53%) were low in fiber;
• More than half (53%) of products did not contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just two ingredients: tomatoes and corn;
• Twenty-four per cent of prepared foods were high in saturated fats;
• More than a third (36%) of prepared foods and meals were high in sodium.

“Without F.D.A. regulation, instead of giving more information to parents struggling to make the best decisions for their kids, the system is deceiving them,” Ms. Sims said. “The question is, do food companies want to be on the side of parents and give them helpful information, or don’t they?”

Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, added, “Parents want healthy food for their kids. They need food labels that reveal what’s really inside, instead of emphasizing one healthy aspect to trick them into buying something fundamentally unhealthy. Mandatory front-of-package labeling guidelines will move us closer to food packages parents can trust.”

For the full report visit http://bit.ly/claiminghealth.

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