Coming to a Grocery Store Near You: A New Nutrition Facts Panel

According to this story from the AP:

After 20 years, the nutrition facts label on the back of food packages is getting a makeover.


The FDA has sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House, but Taylor would not estimate when they might be released. The FDA has been working on the issue for a decade, he said.


The revised label is expected to make the calorie listing more prominent, and Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said that could be useful to consumers. Her group represents the nation's largest food companies.

Hildwine said the FDA also has suggested that it may be appropriate to remove the "calories from fat" declaration on the label.

It's not yet clear what other changes the FDA could decide on. 


Personally, I think it is a good idea to bring research to bear on the design of the nutrition facts panel.  I've been critical of certain aspects of the implications people draw from the research in behavioral economics.  But, here is an area where the research is useful and has direct relevance.  

The government is going to provide nutrition information anyway (and has been doing it for 20 years), and as such, shouldn't it at least be presented in a way that is most understood by the consumer?  It is impossible to believe that the current little black box with dozens of horizontal lines is the most effective format.  

How do we know which type of information is "most effective"?  Effective, of course, could have many meanings.  One definition could relate to the extent to which the information is accurately understood by the consumer (I'd prefer that over whether the label causes some change in behavior desired by particular nutritionist).  Another way is to see what types of information arise in markets (i.e., what information consumers demand and how companies provide it).  For example, I've notice cereal boxes with color coded labels on the front of the package in the upper left-hand corner.  Similar private initiatives abound.

I'm  sure interest groups on all sides - from food companies to health activists - will want a say.  I just hope solid consumer research is brought to bear on the issue as well.