Nutrition rating system similar to the ‘Energy Star’ program needed for U.S. food labels, panel says

Director of the Brown School’s Health Communication Research Lab is member of Institute of Medicine panel

Front-of-package nutrition labels already exist on many foods in the U.S., but an Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel recently recommended standardizing and simplifying this information through a rating system modeled after the Energy Star program.

“You shouldn’t have to be a nutrition scientist to make healthy food choices for your family,” says Matthew Kreuter, PhD, member of the IOM panel and director of the Health Communication Research Laboratory at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The Energy Star program is a nice model because it gives consumers a simple symbol that interprets complex data for them,” he says.

The committee recommended the new label appear on all food products. It would show calories and 0-3 “points” that could be earned for having relatively lower levels of sodium, added sugars, and trans and saturated fats — all of which can be harmful to one’s health when consumed in excess.

“American shoppers are in a hurry. They don’t have time to read a bunch of abbreviations and percentages on every food package. This system makes choosing healthier foods faster and easier. The more points or checks you see on the label, the healthier a product is.”

The report includes several examples of the what the new symbols might look like; these were developed by artists from Washington University in St. Louis (see slideshow on right). The recommendations were presented to the Food and Drug Administration.