Food makers are urged to tell more

U.S. suggests labels reveal calories in whole product

March 13, 2004|By Rosie Mestel | Rosie Mestel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

To help Americans control their overeating, the Food and Drug Administration urged food packagers yesterday to change their product labels so they actually reflect the number of calories someone is likely to consume in one sitting.

For instance, a beverage company should label a 20-ounce bottle of soda as containing 275 calories instead of 2.5 servings of 110 calories each - as is often the case - because most people drink the whole bottle at once.

The move is part of the FDA's new strategy for fighting obesity. It is aimed at teaching Americans to think closely about calories when they choose what to eat, said FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford.

"America must get back to the basics," Crawford said. "There's no substitute for the basic message - that calories in must equal calories out."

Crawford said the FDA has mailed letters to food manufacturing companies encouraging them to "take advantage of the flexibility in current regulations on serving sizes" to be more realistic in defining such servings.

The FDA working group responsible for the recommendations also proposed that the calorie content of foods be brought into sharper relief on food labels - by increasing type size and stating the product's percentage of daily caloric needs.

Other proposals include encouraging the restaurant industry to list calorie values of meals and enhancing public education about healthful eating.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement that the proposals were "like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

"Relying on junk food marketers' self-policing is naive and one of the things that helped Americans waddle into the obesity epidemic in the first place," he said.

James Hill, director of the center for human nutrition at the University of Colorado, said there was nothing wrong with highlighting calories, but the public needs a better way to understand what they mean.

"Five hundred calories - what does that tell you?" he said. "It would be better if you had something saying this amount of calories would require so many minutes of walking, for example, to burn off."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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