Dietitian Blog, Health/Wellness, Patient Blog, Research/Industry Updates, Weight Management | Sep 16 2019

The impact of the new FDA labeling laws

In recent years, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has rolled out a series of regulation updates designed to provide consumers with better information to make healthy food choices and reform food industry standards on health promotion. The aim of these reforms is to help reduce chronic disease, since nutrition plays a leading role in contributing to chronic diseases. But what exactly is the projected impact of these regulations?

Menu labeling changes

In 2018, the FDA implemented menu nutrition labeling laws. This requires establishments meeting certain criteria to post their menu items’ caloric content and other nutrition facts on the menu so customers can see this information at the point of ordering. One study that evaluated this new requirement predicted that adding calories onto menus would not be enough to influence consumers’ food choices and more interventions for behavior change would be required.1

Another systematic review studied calorie and menu labeling interventions and concluded that the impact of menu labeling on consumer purchases is largely unclear.2Limited evidence suggests that menu labeling positively impacts choices at fast food restaurants and cafeterias.2More research is needed in this area to draw more definitive conclusions.

As registered dietitians, we may be able to make sense of these findings. When people dine out, they may be less concerned about the nutritional value of the meal they are consuming if it is a special occasion or if eating out is not a common occurrence. Individuals may be more careful with their choices for foods consumed more routinely, such as foods purchased at the grocery store or items from establishments they frequently patronize.

Nutrition facts panel changes

The FDA is also implementing changes to the nutrition facts label, which include a mandate that food companies disclose added sugars on the food label.  Although some companies have already implemented these changes, all companies are required to comply by 2020. A recent study projected that this component of the new labeling laws would have significant positive health implications.3

This study predicts that the “added sugar” label change alone will prevent 354,400 cardiovascular disease cases and 599,330 diabetes mellitus cases by 2037. It also predicts savings of $31 billion in net healthcare costs and $61.9 billion in societal costs.3As food companies begin to reformulate their products to reduce added sugar, the study predicts a prevention of 708,800 cardiovascular disease cases and 1.2 million diabetes mellitus cases while saving $57.6 billion in healthcare costs and $113.2 billion in societal costs by 2037.3 Although research will be needed after the nutrition label goes into effect to confirm these predictions over the coming decades, the positive predictions are substantial and provide motivation to educate the public on how to interpret these new labels to their advantage.

Only time will tell if the FDA’s new food labeling laws will achieve the positive behavior changes we are hoping for. Although research projections are mixed, there is huge potential for a dramatic impact on health outcomes and costs.

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Gruner, J., DeWeese, R. S., Lorts, C., Yedidia, M. J., & Ohri-Vachaspati, P. (2018). Predicted Impact of the Food and Drug Administration’s Menu-Labeling Regulations on Restaurants in 4 New Jersey Cities. American journal of public health, 108(2), 234–240.
Bleich, S. N., Economos, C. D., Spiker, M. L., Vercammen, K. A., VanEpps, E. M., Block, J. P., Roberto, C. A. (2017). A Systematic Review of Calorie Labeling and Modified Calorie Labeling Interventions: Impact on Consumer and Restaurant Behavior. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 25(12), 2018–2044.
Huang, Y., Kypridemos, C., Liu, J., Lee, Y., Pearson-Stuttard, J., Collins, B., Bandosz, P., Capewell, S., Whitsel, L., Wilde, P., Mozaffarin, D., O’Flaherty, M., Micha, R. (2019). Cost-Effectiveness of the US Food and Drug Administration Added Sugar Labeling Policy for Improving Diet and Health. Circulation, 139:2613-2624.
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About Courtney Lee

Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition and anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same!

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