IOM Tackles Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling & Ranking

The Institute of Medicine recently released a report analyzing front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labeling and ranking systems that companies use to show consumer how healthy or nutritious their products are. With different labels and ranking systems, the information is often confusing or inconsistent across brands and foods.  According to the IOM succesful FOP systems have the following characteristics:

  • Simple: not requiring specific or sophisticated nutritional knowledge to understand the meaning

  • Interpretive: nutrition information provided as guidance rather than specific facts

  • Ordinal: offering nutritional guidance using a scaled or ranking system

  • Supported by communication: with readily remembered names or identifiable symbols

In an attempt to decrease the disconnect between dietary needs and actual American diets, the IOM recommends that the FDA and the USDA develop, test, and implement a single, standard FOP system to appear on all products, replacing any existing system. The new system would have a variety of characteristics, and it would appear on all grocery products allowing consumers to compare food choices across and within categories.  Food items would be awarded zero to three nutritional “points” for saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. For instance, if one, two, or all three nutrients are present in a small enough quantity to meet the qualifying criteria, the product earns one, two, or three FOP points, respectively. For example, 100 percent whole wheat bread could earn all three points, graham crackers could earn two points for fats and sodium, and an oat and peanut butter bar could earn one point for sodium.

According to the IOM, a new FOP system that helps both simplify and clarify the information provided about foods could help bring to an end the confusion that many people have about food choices and result in healthier decisions.