FDA nutrition labels

On Friday, the FDA proposed a bigger delay to the new mandatory change to nutrition labels that aimed to help consumers better navigate their eating choices. The delay would give companies until 2020 to comply with the new guidelines (or 2021 for small businesses). The food label makeover makes calories more prominent, separates out added sugars from natural sugars and makes serving sizes more realistic. (Because isn’t it annoying when you see a serving of chips is 130 calories and think “yay,” and then see a serving is about five chips in a bag of 500, and you are already 20 chips deep? Or is that just me?)

This change has been in the making for years, and the FDA delayed the compliance deadline earlier this year after strong lobbyist pressure from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Friday’s proposal brings clarity to the previously ambiguous compliance date.

This year alone, the FDA has also delayed the compliance date of the mandate to require the posting of calories to prepared foods by restaurants and grocery stores, even though it’s supported by the National Restaurant Association itself. The USDA is also relaxing the sodium reduction requirement for subsidized school lunches. There are many competing priorities for the FDA and the USDA, but the need to provide more information about our food to help consumers make better eating decisions has never been more urgent. These delays are just the latest in a string of feet dragging to bring greater food transparency to the American people.

In the United States, we have an unhealthy relationship with food given that the leading cause of premature death in the U.S. is heart disease, and lifestyle choices (diet and lack of exercise) are the top contributing factors to heart disease. Millions of people do not connect their unhealthy state to how they are nourishing their bodies until it is too late. More than 20 percent of the U.S. population is obese, and 1 out of 3 adults are projected to have diabetes by 2050.

Seventy-five percent of chronic disease can be improved or cured by making lifestyle changes – we could extend lives and save billions on medical expenses if we can make smarter eating decisions as a nation. The first step is education to drive awareness of how food impacts our health. The second step is providing information to equip people with the data they need to make smarter eating decisions, and most importantly, making this a priority from the top down.

Changing lifestyle takes a village, and behavior change is sustained if there are consistent reminders of the choices you are making and the outcomes associated with those choices. Behavior will be impacted by making calories and sugar bigger and bolder every time you order food or pick up something in the grocery store. Behavior will be impacted by reducing salt consumption by children in school. The mandate needs to come from the FDA. We don’t have time to lose.

-Shireen Yates, co-founder and CEO of Nima