Do Food Labels Lead to Healthier Eating?

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A new study from the U.K. suggests that traffic-light labels on food products are not inducing people to choose healthier options. The study contradicts the results of a previous study by the British Food Standards Agency, which found the traffic-light labels to be preferred by consumers, of use to them, and a stimulant to manufacturers to reformulate products to qualify for more of those little green dots.

While the arguments go on, and the FDA and the Institute of Medicine conduct their own studies of front-of-package labeling, and the FTC establishes its own standards for advertising, I have a suggestion: How about removing ALL health and nutrition claims from junk foods?

How about trying to think about foods as foods, not drugs. Let food packages carry Nutrition Facts labels and lists of ingredients, but that's all. It would save everyone a lot of trouble. Federal agencies could get back to worrying about more important things. City and state attorneys could too. And consumers would no longer be misled by absurd claims that cereals or snacks will make people healthy.

Just a thought.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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