The Nutrition Facts Label Turns 20

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food labelBelieve it or not, the Nutrition Facts label turned 20 years old this year. It was in January of 1993 that the FDA issued the final ruling on this iconic black and white box that now graces (or has graced) the back of literally billions of food packages. Many of us can barely remember shopping for food without it, and for the rest of us it kind of feels like it’s been there all along.

A recent story on WAMU’s Metro connection features the man who designed the label and explores what went into its development. Evidently they went through 35 versions before settling on the simple box with lines and text that we know today. It certainly paid off in some sense, as the label has earned acclaim from some of the most prestigious voices in graphic design. In a different light, it’s a good thing so much thought went into it because this small collection of unbiased and straightforward data has had immense influence on our nation’s health and the global food industry. 

• It has shaped how we understand nutrition and the way it impacts our health, influencing our food buying decisions for disease management and prevention – think of buying low-sodium, low-saturated fat, high-fiber, etc.

• It has shaped the entire industry of nutrition in the US, centering it on the specific fundamental components of food – macro and micronutrients – that can be learned from the label.

• It has influenced the way that foods are manufactured, dictating recipe formulation, serving size and ingredient usage to ensure the numbers in the table jive with the nutrition trends of the day. For example, the reduction of partially hydrogenated oils to bring the trans-fat to 0g or the addition of functional fibers like inulin and chicory root to boost the grams of fiber in your breakfast cereal.

In keeping with our current age of information, the demand for this data is growing. The FDA is starting to bring the numbers to the front of food packages. The Affordable Care Act has mandated the expansion of the Nutrition Facts concept from the grocery store to the unpackaged world of restaurants, convenience stores and fast-food chains where many of us arguably consume a majority of our calories. According to a recent FDA consumer update, use of the Nutrition Facts label has increased from 44% in 2002 to 54% in 2008 (last time the survey was conducted).

More data seems good. More users… even better. But it still begs the question… are Nutrition Facts having a positive impact on our health?

Have they had a positive impact on your health? How do you use the Nutrition Facts? Do you like having nutrition information available at chain restaurants and food establishments?

Please share with us in the comments!


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March 2023