Children’s food nutrition labels may be deceiving

January 19, 2011

Parents shouldn’t look to the labels on the front of food packages for guidance on picking the healthiest products for their kids, according to a new Prevention Institute study. Released Jan. 19 through advocacy coalition Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments, “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food” found that 84% of products examined didn’t meet basic nutritional standards.

The study looked at the front-of-package labeling on 58 “better-for-you” children’s products—those that manufacturers tout as their most nutritious. The nutritional content was compared against nutritional criteria derived from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the National Academies of Science. In spite of the claims on the labels, study findings reveal:

  • More than half (57%) of the study products qualified as high sugar, and 95% of products contained added sugar.
  • More than half (53%) were low in fiber.
  • More than half (53%) of products did not contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just two ingredients—tomatoes and corn.
  • 24% of prepared foods were high in saturated fats.
  • More than 1/3 (36%) of prepared foods and meals were high in sodium.

Prevention Institute and Strategic Alliance are calling on the FDA to step in and require uniform labeling standards for all products that use front-of-package labels.

In considering how front-of-package (FOP) labeling should be used as a nutrition education tool in the future, in 2009 the U.S. Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to undertake a study with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on FOP nutrition rating systems and nutrition-related symbols. Once completed, the FDA will use the report to determine how best to proceed in potential regulation of FOP systems. In the January issue of Food Technology magazine, Digital Media Editor Kelly Frederick examines the history of FOP systems, what the IOM has concluded after examining the strengths and weaknesses of current systems, and the ongoing research on consumers’ attitudes towards FOP systems.


Food Technology article