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The FDA Is Making Huge Changes to How Food Has to Be Labeled

May 20, 2016, 2:04 PM UTC
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Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nutrition facts labels on food packages are getting a long-awaited makeover, with calories listed in bigger, bolder type and a new line for added sugars.

And serving sizes will be updated to make them more realistic — so a small bag of chips doesn’t count as two or three servings, for example.

First lady Michelle Obama is expected to announce final rules for new labels in a speech Friday morning as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat childhood obesity. The changes were first proposed by the Food and Drug Administration two years ago, and are the first major update of the labels since they were created in 1994. They are now found on more than 800,000 products.

“This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices,” the first lady said in a statement.

The overhaul comes as the science has changed in recent decades. While fat was the focus in the 1990s when the labels first were created, there is now more concern about how many calories people eat. The calorie listing will now be much larger than the rest of the type on the label, making it hard to overlook.

Serving sizes will also be easier to see, listed at the top of the graphic. And it will be easier to discern how many servings are in a container, part of the attempt to revise long-misleading serving sizes.

Calculations for serving sizes will also be revised. The idea behind listing a whole package of food, or a whole drink, as one serving size isn’t that people should eat more; it’s that they should understand how many calories are in what they are actually eating. The FDA says that by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not ideal consumption.


Nutrition advocates have long asked for the added sugars line on the label because it’s impossible for consumers to know how much sugar in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and how much is added by the manufacturer. Think an apple vs. apple sauce, which comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties.

Other changes to the labels: They must now list levels of potassium and Vitamin D, two nutrients Americans don’t get enough of. Vitamin C and Vitamin A listings are no longer required but can be included. Iron and calcium will stay.

The food industry has two years to comply.

Reaction to the labels from food companies has been mixed since they were first proposed. While some companies have fought the new line for added sugar, others have supported it. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the food industry’s largest companies, has supported the larger print for calories.