Over the past decade, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been taking a more aggressive stance on food and beverage labeling in an effort to improve consumers' access to product information and promote healthier diets. In 2016, the FDA announced a number of mandatory changes to the Nutrition Facts label found on packaged goods, which included an update for added sugar content. Under the new guidelines, food and beverage manufacturers will be required to include the grams and percent Daily Value for all added sugars used in their products. The agency hopes that this regulatory move will help consumers limit their sugar consumption and make more informed buying decisions.
To support the FDA's changes, researchers at Tufts University conducted a thorough study into the possible effects of the new added sugar requirement, finding that the updated label could prevent a projected 354,400 cases of cardiovascular disease and 599,300 cases of diabetes between 2018 and 2037. The research team primarily used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to formulate its conclusions, such as information on population demographics, risk factors, dietary habits and more.
Another goal of the study was to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the FDA's label changes in terms of health care spending. After analyzing the data, researchers estimated that the added sugars requirement could save close to $31 billion in net health care costs during the forecasted period. Currently, obesity-related illnesses in the U.S. cost well over $190 billion annually, which represents nearly 21% of total medical expenditures. A reduction in these costs could help to free up more resources for chronic disease research and the development of new treatments for managing existing conditions.
How food labeling impacts consumer behaviors
To secure the positive results outlined in the Tufts University report, consumers must be willing to act upon the information provided on the updated Nutrition Facts label. While it's unlikely that all shoppers in the U.S. will make meaningful changes to their diets, a 2019 meta analysis conducted on behalf of the Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Project suggests that health-related claims on product labels may have a greater impact on consumer behavior than was previously considered.
After reviewing 60 different intervention studies, researchers found that food labeling is directly correlated with the reduced consumption of certain nutrients, such as sugar. In fact, their analysis discovered that health-related claims, symbols and logos on food and beverage packaging motivated consumers to lower their calorie intake by 6.6%, their fat intake by 10.6% and their consumption of unhealthy meal options by 13%.
Despite these promising results, the study found that food labeling does not have much of an impact on other target areas, including the consumption of carbohydrates, proteins, saturated fats, whole grains and more. Researchers also looked into the effects of label types and placement but were unable to draw any concrete conclusions that may lead to further labeling reform. Instead, their findings suggest that the presence or absence of nutritional information was more relevant to consumer behavior than any specific label characteristics.
As the push for labeling transparency continues to pick up steam, manufacturers of food and beverage products will likely continue to face new rules and regulations that may disrupt their normal operations. While the FDA typically provides companies with plenty of time to update their practices, the uncertain footing can still have major repercussions for the production, processing and packaging of food items.
If you're looking to keep pace with fast-changing legislation, an in-house labeling process may offer a practical and cost-effective solution. To learn more about industrial labeling systems, visit Optimedia Labs' U.S. page or our Canadian site.