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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Remarks on the Proposed Updates to the Nutrition Facts Label

Remarks by Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs
Let's Move announcement, Washington, D.C.
February 27, 2014

Thank you Secretary Sebelius.

I am delighted to be joining you all for today’s Let’s Move announcement in which the FDA is unveiling our proposed changes for a new and improved—and user-friendly version of the iconic Nutrition Facts label. Before I walk through our proposed changes, I also want to take a moment to thank First Lady Michelle Obama for her continued commitment to encouraging Americans to live healthier lifestyles—and to recognize the four-year anniversary of the Let’s Move initiative.

For 20 years, we have relied on the iconic Nutrition Facts label to help us make healthy choices when deciding what to eat. When it was first introduced back in 1994, this landmark label provided the American consumer with uniform information about the nutritional content of foods.

Since that time, we have gained a better understanding of the relationship between what we eat and many of the chronic diseases affecting millions of Americans. For example, we know that eating more calories than needed to maintain our body weight, coupled with a lack of physical activity, is a primary risk factor for obesity in the general population.

FDA experts relied on data from a variety of sources, including the Institute of Medicine to design this new label.

Let me highlight some of the proposed changes for you.

We know that as a nation we eat too much added sugar. While some of those sugars occur naturally in foods, much of it is added. The new label would provide more information about sugars in food by now indicating when a food has "added sugar."

Added sugars contribute to a substantial portion of Americans calories, but don’t really provide much else in the way of nutrients. This has major implications in maintaining healthy body weight.  We believe that requiring added sugars to be listed separately on the Nutrition Facts label will better allow consumers to identify and compare products with added sugar and enable them to make better choices.

We also hope this change will motivate the food industry to reformulate its products. As many of you may know, this occurred back in 2006 when we required food producers to add information about trans fats in the label. When Americans have better options, they can make healthier choices—and we all win.

Now let’s talk about how much we eat. In many cases, people are now eating amounts that are different from the serving sizes that the FDA first put in place in 1994.

I should note that our official definition for serving size is a reference amount. It reflects how much we actually eat when serving ourselves. And for this reference amount to be useful to the consumer, it has to be close to what the average person would typically eat. So, contrary to what many may think, serving sizes on food packages are not recommended portions.

We also know that package size affects what people eat, and that people are likely to eat or drink all of the contents of certain packaged foods in one sitting. For packaged foods and beverages that are typically consumed in one sitting, we propose labeling all of them as a single serving and declaring calorie and nutrient information for the entire package.  For example, a can of ready-to-serve soup is usually consumed as a single serving.

For packages that are larger and could be consumed as either single or multiple servings, manufacturers would have to provide a "dual column" label to indicate both "per serving" and "per package" calorie and nutrient information. This way, people will know how many calories and nutrients they are consuming if they eat or drink the entire amount at one time.

It might be surprising to learn that, in this day and age, there are still nutrients that some people aren’t getting enough of. We have known for some time that potassium and vitamin D are important nutrients for health, significant for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Potassium can help lower blood pressure, while Vitamin D is a key nutrient for helping to promote healthy bone development and general health. But what's new is that current data show that certain population groups are not getting enough of them.

Therefore, we are proposing that these nutrients be required elements that are listed on the Nutrition Facts label, along with calcium and iron, which have been required for some time. Vitamins A and C, which are currently required, could be listed voluntarily.

Finally, we are proposing changes to some Daily Values, which are intended to be a guide for how much of a particular nutrient a person should consume each day—or, in the case of things like sodium, an upper limit for the day. 

The Daily Values are used to determine the Percent Daily Value that you see on the label. The Percent Daily Value helps you see how much of the Daily Value one serving of a particular packaged food contributes. 

We've determined through our scientific research that some of these numbers should change. While the upper limit for sodium will decrease slightly to be in line with recent expert recommendations, data show that the daily targets for dietary fiber and calcium should increase somewhat.

Finally, let's see what's changed in the layout of the Nutrition Facts label itself.

You will see that information about calories and serving sizes jumps out at you. On the other hand, we’ve actually removed certain information, such as "calories from fat." That’s because we've learned that total fat is less important than the type of fat.

These are important changes and our goal here is to design a label that is easier to read and one that consumers can understand.

This proposal is the culmination of years of research, study, and requests for public input. We have welcomed the comments we have received from experts and consumers alike to guide us toward a label we feel will provide people with the information they want and need. It’s clear that the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

We believe these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label will help in improving public health, incorporating the latest nutrition recommendations to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure and stroke.

We realize that the label alone won’t magically change how America eats, but we hope that once consumers decide to implement changes to their diet and lead a healthier lifestyle, it will provide them with the tools to be successful.

Thank you, and now I’d like to turn to Shanese Bryant for her remarks.