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Study Indicates Front-of-Pack Labels Have Little Nutritional Relevance

Front-of-pack labels are not a good representation of actual nutritional value of food products.

Labels on Front of Food Packaging May Be Misleading There has been a lot of recent debate concerning what should be included on the labels of food products. For example, how much, or rather how little, detail should be offered to consumers? What requirements should a company have to meet before being allowed to make a certain health claim?

It is important to many people that they can look at a label and easily find what they are looking for, whether that be the ingredients or amount of sugar an item contains or whether or not it was made using genetically modified organisms. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Even when these nutritional details are included on the product packaging, they can sometimes be deceptive, such as when the serving size has been strategically manipulated to present smaller values.

Not all consumers turn to the nutrition facts label, often located on the side of packaging, to determine how healthy an item is. Some simply focus on the front of package, or FOP. However, recent research has indicated that the health claims made on this area of a food product may not be an accurate representation of its actual nutritional quality.

Nutritional Value of Health Claims The Institute of Food Technologists conducted a study that was published in this month's issue of the Journal of Food Science which evaluated the FOP health labels of more than 2,200 food products. All the items are or had been on the market at some point throughout the past decade and included cereal and prepared meals products.

In the research report, the authors said that "the results show that the FOP environment - the number and type of claims - are not good indicators of whether or not a food is healthy as defined by [the United States Food and Drug Administration]."

The source also added that the findings indicated the regulations set by the FDA are limiting in the kind of comprehensive explanation these labels offer consumers about nutrition quality. Put simply, just because a packaged item claims it is healthy in huge letters across the label, that doesn't necessarily mean it is.

However, although the researchers found that the claims made on front packaging don't offer a definite guarantee of nutritional value, the study did reveal that "certain types of FOP claims were significant predictors of higher or lower levels of key nutrients."

Properly Understanding Food Labels Existing FDA guidelines recognize three main categories of FOP nutrition claims: health claims, nutrient content claims and structure/function claims.

Terms such as organic, local and natural have become especially buzzworthy words over the past few years. According to Medical Xpress, these phrases are displayed on the front of packaging because they are classified under nutrient claims.

A person may take notice of one of these words and assume it means the product is good for them. But, based on what the research study suggests, these FOP health claims are, essentially, just words. They don't actually reveal any concrete information about the nutritional value, which is what consumers should focus on if they are looking to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

This is why, the Medical Xpress indicated, people should look to the Nutrition Facts panel, usually located on the side of the packaging, to get the real information they are looking for about how healthy a product is.

As the food industry continues to examine and evaluate the influence certain aspects of product labeling have on consumer purchasing decisions, these findings could initiate a shift in what companies put on FOP labeling. It's possible that manufacturers will start including more nutritional values and fewer buzz-phrases that make vague claims open for interpretation.