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Published : 2014-02-28 19:15
Updated : 2014-02-28 19:15

WASHINGTON (AFP) ― In a country where obesity is rampant, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday aimed to make healthy choices easier for consumers by unveiling a series of proposed changes to food labels.

Calories, added sugars and more realistic serving information would feature more prominently on more than 700,000 products, in a revamp she described as the “label of the future.”

“This will be the new norm in providing consumers with information about the food they buy,” she said at a White House event. “So this is a huge deal.”

First lady Michelle Obama and a young boy show off their muscles during a visit to La Petite Academy in Bowie, Maryland, Thursday, as part of her “Let’s Move! Child Care” program. (AP-Yonhap)
The changes will likely take years to implement but administration officials said they hope that the first major overhaul of nutrition labels in two decades will give Americans new tools for fighting the battle of the bulge.

If approved, the calorie count would be printed in a larger size than the rest, and a new line would detail “added sugars” ― not just total sugars.

The changes would also attempt to eliminate confusion about how many servings a container holds, and how many calories are in a serving.

Under the new proposal, if a soda is 0.6 liters, the calorie count on the label would reflect a 20 ounce soda.

Currently, the advertised calorie count is much lower, since it reflects just one serving, and in a 20 ounce soda there are 2.5 servings.

Single-packaged pastries, cookies and muffins also often say they contain two servings, which experts say can be misleading.

“You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into a grocery store, pick an item off the shelf, and tell whether it’s good for your family,” said Obama.

Labels would include mandatory potassium and vitamin D amounts for the first time.

Calories from fat would be eliminated, since health experts understand more today than they did 20 years ago about good and bad fats, administration officials said.

The proposals are open for a 90-day comment period and would likely take at least two years to implement.

For Obama, advocating healthy eating and exercise, particularly among young people, has been a centerpiece of her efforts, and Thursday also marked the fourth anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

More than one third (35.7 percent) of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a trend that has remained steady among adults in recent years.

But new CDC data released earlier this week showed, for the first time, a steep 43 percent drop in obesity among the very young, aged two to five, signaling potential progress against the epidemic.

Some pushback over the labels is expected from the food industry, particularly regarding salt and sugar content.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry group, said it would work with the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of the process, but said any changes must “ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”

The nutrition facts label has only undergone one update in two decades, and that was to add a line about trans fat content in 2006.

“Our goal here is to design a label that is easier to read and one that consumers can understand,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

The labels could help improve public health by reducing the risk of chronic health issues such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke, which cost the United States around $150 billion a year.

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