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Do The FDA’s Food Labels Lead To Bad Decisions In The Grocery Store?

A few years back, a Neilson survey determined that only 4 in 10 North Americans have even a partial understanding of the government-mandated nutrition labels that adorn packaged food. Researchers at McGill University compared those labels with 3 designs that simplify the information through creative use of numbers and colors and found that the U.S. labels took the longest to interpret and resulted in the least nutritious food choices.

So, while you’re trying to parse the Cheerios from the Grape Nuts, your kid’s already put the Count Chocula in the cart and moved to the next aisle. That’s a problem when childhood obesity is up 300 percent over the last 30 years.

The label that the McGill researchers found informed the healthiest purchasing decisions is known as “NuVal.” A joint venture between a food industry consulting firm and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, NuVal ascribes an overall nutritional score based on a combination of healthy and unhealthy ingredients. Theoretically, using NuVal, you could know that the Cheerios score a 33 and the Grape Nuts a 31 and be out of the cereal aisle before you kid even discovers Count Chocula exists.

The problem with NuVal is that you can only find it on the shelves of participating grocery chains. It’s currently used in 32 chains nationwide, including City Market, Krogers and King Soopers, but don’t expect to see it standardized on food packaging anytime soon — not when the FDA is busy tinkering with this innovative redesign:

Here are the NuVal score comparisons of some common groceries:

  • Arnold Natural Flax And Fiber Bread: 64/ Wonder Bread: 28
  • Broccoli: 100/Avocado: 88
  • Birds Eye Frozen Green Beans: 100/Birds Eye Sweet Corn And Butter Sauce: 17
  • Banana: 100/Coconut: 24
  • Kashi TLC Oatmeal Raisin Flax Cookies: 38/Nabisco Chips Ahoy Chewy: 1
  • Ryvita Sesame Rye Crisp Bread: 36/Ritz Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers: 7
  • Crunchy Cheetos: 3/Garden Of Eatin’ Blue Tortilla Chips: 34
  • Skinless Turkey Breast: 73/Pork Baby Back Ribs: 36
  • Atlantic Salmon:96/Shrimp (Treated): 40

Of course, food labeling innovation isn’t the only way to deal with childhood obesity …

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