Ingredients Matter: FDA Food Label Changes Don’t Go Far Enough.

Published in the Portland Press Herald here.

Everyone is high-fiving the FDA for changing food labels so that a normal person can understand what she is eating.  My view:  It took them long enough.

When obesity is the number one killer in America, it begs the question, was the FDA asleep at the wheel?   After a 20-year slumber, the FDA has decided to overhaul ingredient labels.  Their primary focus is on making serving sizes and calorie information larger and highlighting sugar.  Really?

When 1 in 5 people are dying from these preventable deaths, it seems to me that moving around the same information and making it bigger will not have a major impact.  If cigarettes now kill less people than obesity, wouldn’t it make sense to treat the problem just as seriously?

At least with cigarettes, there is a clear warning that it causes birth defects, cancers and a range of other health complications.  The British go even further by adding front facing, grotesque images of brown lungs, seriously discolored and missing teeth, and guys on gurneys.  Nasty yet powerful.

Since we may not hear from the FDA for 20 more years, they should take a bold step and require front facing labels on food and drink with appropriate warnings.  That way, when a 16-year old picks up the equivalent of a Big Gulp to eat or drink, she knows that it could cause health complications or even death.

The target should be young people, not just parents shopping for their family.  From the time a young kid can buy a snack through her early 20s, she is not that likely to read an ingredient label.  However, warnings on the front of the package in simple language or in-your-face imagery will be more effective.

Kudos to Michelle Obama for highlighting this issues.  There is no silver bullet to end this epidemic.  But everyone, including the FDA can do their part.  We will do ours by only making healthy snacks with ingredients you can find in your pantry.