If you felt a little dizzy this week with the whirlwind of news from the government, you are forgiven.
First Lady Michelle Obama started the parade by talking about a proposal to ban the marketing of junk food in schools. In the mainstream media, this is labeled as a "controversial statement." Oh no, we can't offend companies that make junk food.
"We'll be eliminating advertising for unhealthy foods and beverages in our schools because I think we can all agree that our classrooms should be healthy places where our kids aren't bombarded with ads for junk food. And these guidelines are part of a broader effort to inspire food companies to rethink how they market food to kids in general," Michelle Obama said at a press event.
All the junk food companies will have left is marketing with TV programs, billboards, ads, magazines, online ads …
Seriously, school should be about learning. Students get plenty of exposure to ads in the outside world.
The proposal builds on standards set in the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The marketing of all food/drinks needs to conform the same healthy standards required of foods sold starting in the fall of 2014.
"I don't understand a First Lady accomplishing something. Everything they do is supposed to be a symbolic waste of time," said Stephen Colbert.
The proposed new labels will adjust portion size to standards set by American consumers. For example, apparently no one eats ½ cup of ice cream, so the new standard would be 1 cup.
So instead of being "tricked" into seeing 150 calories for a ½ cup, you can now be "freaked out" by seeing 300 calories for a cup. This way, you avoid the need to multiply 150 x 2. The bad news is that you have to look at what you served and still guess whether you now have a 1-cup serving.
One pressing question is whether all manufacturers in a product category would have to conform to the same standard. In the cereal aisle, a serving can be 1 cup or ¾ cup or a ½ cup. In the story we did on Grape-Nuts, we found the company undercut the size of the serving and undersold the amount of protein in a real serving.
For foods that can easily be consumed in one sitting, the food labels would reflect this reality, or at least offer side-by-side a per serving/per container option.
The new labels will be less cluttered with certain categories (i.e., calories) in larger fonts. This will likely come at the expense of information we can use and can't find otherwise.
The absolute best part of the new potential labels is a category for "added sugars."
Sure your yogurt may have fruit, but if the company adds high-fructose corn syrup, that will be more clearly marked on the back of the label.
Right now, on a container with yogurt and fruit, you have total sugar, but that includes milk sugar and fruit sugar. Naturally occurring sugars will be exempt from "added sugars" since they aren't added.
Natural applesauce is made up of apples and water where conventional applesauce adds high-fructose corn syrup or sugar. The added sugars would reflect a difference so a consumer can see side-by-side that 0g added sugars are better than some added sugars.
Those who can interpret the added sugars on food labels are at an advantage, so adding that category will level the playing field. The true rational is to put pressure on companies to reduce added sugars to improve the perception (and reality) of their food products.
The new labels won't be seen for some time, and will go through a lengthy process and likely won't end up as ideal as the stories have made out the changes.
Most of the changes involves easier math or less math, but will still require some math. If nothing else, you can take your kids food shopping and have them figure out the math.
video credit: Colbert Report
graphic credit: Food and Drug Administration