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Posts Tagged ‘ Michelle Obama ’

Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

You can also read it HERE.

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with Michelle Obama announced an overhaul to the nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods. Among the proposed changes includes updating the serving sizes.

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

The food labels have not been revised in over 20 years, and the current serving sizes are based on portions typically consumed in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller–often much smaller–than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and research articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

In a previous piece I wrote for Huffington Post, while I commended the FDA for using more realistic serving sizes, I also offered a note of caution: in particular, that FDA is not telling consumers to actually eat more.

“For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories. This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat…. It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.”

While there are clearly benefits to FDA requiring that manufacturers use more realistic serving sizes, a new study, published in the journal Appetite, addresses some potential problems with larger serving sizes. The study explores how consumers interpret the new serving sizes, and how they affect the amount of food they would serve themselves.

In one of several experiments, the researchers showed subjects two different labels for mini chocolate chip cookies–the current label which states 3 cookies as a serving and the proposed new label which lists 6 cookies as a serving. The subjects exposed to the proposed label served themselves significantly more cookies than those exposed to the current label.

Results of all four experiments found that people misinterpret serving size information. The majority of subjects believe that the serving size on a food label refers to how much they should eat. The researchers also found that the increased serving sizes on the proposed Nutrition Facts label can lead people eat more and purchase more food.

Uh oh! This is troubling, especially in a society where many of us already eat too much.

The researchers write, “We found that people misinterpret serving size information, with the vast majority of consumers incorrectly believing that the serving size refers to how much can/should be consumed.”

Lead author Steven Dallas, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Stern School of Business wrote me the following in an email message: “Our research shows that the increased serving sizes of the proposed label lead consumers to serve more food for themselves and others. Since excessive consumption is a key contributor to obesity, this is a worrisome effect of the proposed label.”

Results of this study confirm that consumers may incorrectly view serving sizes as recommendations. Hopefully, FDA will take these findings into account when finalizing its serving-size rulings for the new food labels.

The authors conclude in their paper, “FDA should be encouraged to consider ways to correct this misinterpretation, such as by mandating the addition of a serving size definition to the proposed Nutrition Facts label. The definition could inform consumers that the serving size refers to how much of the product a typical person consumes in one sitting, and does not refer to how much of the product can be healthily consumed in one sitting.”

I agree!

In my comments last year to FDA on the proposed serving-size change, I suggest that FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations. I wrote, ” I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the new proposed serving sizes.

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Chocolate bars on a diet?!

Last week, Mars, Inc. announced it will stop shipping chocolate bars that “exceed 250 calories per portion by the end of 2013.” The company has made the pledge as part of an agreement with Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America. Mars and 16 other manufacturers have pledged to reduce 1.5 trillion calories by the end of 2015 by offering lower-calorie options and reducing portion sizes.

Mars, Inc. writes on its website:

  • “We are committed to making sure the products we offer, and the ingredients they contain, can fit into a balanced diet – whether whole grain rice or a delicious Mars chocolate bar. We are also committed to marketing and selling our products in a responsible way.”

This sounds like good news considering that Mars makes some of the top-selling brands of chocolate products in the world including Snickers, M&Ms, 3 Musketeers, Mars, and Twix. And all of these products come in king size portions as well as the regular size portions.  Currently, the regular size Snickers bar has 280 calories, while the king size has 510 calories.

Most consumers—myself included–took the announcement to mean that the company will stop marketing chocolate bars with more than 250 calories. So would that mean an end to king size bars?

Wishful thinking. The issue surrounds the definition of what constitutes a “portion.” Is a portion a “piece” or “the entire contents of what is in the package”? Most people that I know would say the latter.  After all, the package is marketed as one portion for one person.

After reading the fine print on Mars’ website, here is what the company intends to do. They write:

  • “We have committed not to ship any chocolate products that exceed 250 calories per portion by the end of 2013. In many markets, we have replaced SNICKERS® King Size — one large chocolate bar — with two smaller bars. The new product is called the SNICKERS® Duo, in the U.K, for example. In the U.S., our “2toGo” bars are packed in memory wrappers that can be twisted to close, giving people the choice to save one portion for later.”

As reported succinctly in the LA Times, “…it means packaging will change: hefty King Size portions will be subdivided into smaller “2toGo” sub-portions, designed to make it easier to put one serving aside for later.”

Good luck with that. Are most people really going to put the other piece aside for later?!  Perhaps, but probably just in theory.

Here are my thoughts:

If Mars were to actually stop selling chocolate bars with more than 250 calories, it would be a step in the right direction. Even though a 250 calorie chocolate bar is too caloric, it would still mean  progress, given the high calorie count in some of today’s candy bars.

But the company still plans to sell chocolate candy with more than 250 calories in one package—they are just going to “package” the contents differently.

On the website for the new bar, here is how Mars describes  the new Snickers 2toGo:

  • “It’s two pieces in one Snickers 2toGo. Enjoy twice the roasted peanuts, nougat, caramel, and milk chocolate wrapped in one resealable twist wrap package.”

And the new “2toGo” sub-portioned Snickers package weighs in at 3.3 ounces and  contains 440 calories! Yikes. It also looks pretty big to me when compared to the regular size 2.1 ounce bar. [See photo.]

While the 2toGo bar is an improvement from the 510 calorie king-size bar, it is still too big and contains far too many calories, especially for a candy bar.   While Mars’ efforts are a small step in the right direction, how about doing away with jumbo candy bars altogether?! Instead of selling “2toGo” bars in one package, why not sell each individual 1.7 ounce–and 220 calorie—“portion” as its own individually wrapped candy bar. Now that would be real progress and the portion would actually contain fewer than 250 calories.

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USDA’s new food icon: from pyramid to plate!

USDA’s new food icon: from Pyramid to Plate

Big news in the nutrition world. Yesterday, the Obama administration unveiled a circular plate as its new food icon to replace the Pyramid graphic we have known for nearly 2 decades. The plate is divided into wedges to represent the different food groups—fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein. It reflects what a balanced meal is supposed to look like. Fruits and vegetables take up half the plate. The dairy group is seen on the side much like a cup.

I watched as First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, unveiled MyPlate at yesterday’s morning press conference.

The government’s website provides extensive details on how to use the plate both for professionals and consumers. The new icon is designed to reflect the consumer messages from the 10th edition of the Dietary Guidelines which were released in January.

Balancing Calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.
Foods to Increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Foods to Reduce
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.


Here’s what I think of the new icon:

Good points:

  • The plate is very simple and easy to understand. Consumers probably can relate more to a plate than a Pyramid. After all, we usually eat off of a plate, not a pyramid.
  • It is easy for kids to understand and hence, is an investment in our future. Many children that I have counseled did not relate well to the previous pyramids.
  • MyPlate has a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables than MyPyramid. With the new food icon, half the plate consists of fruits and vegetables, with the vegetable group being the largest wedge. This is an excellent message.
  • The food groups on the plate are not overflowing which conveys the message “avoid oversized portions.” But of course, we need to make sure that our plate is not too big. Over the years, plates have gotten bigger and so have our waistlines. Take away message: In addition to the choosing the proper proportions of foods, we must watch plate size.

Pet peeves:

  • There is no food on the plate. I would have loved to see some healthy choices within each food group. I would have liked to see pictures of nutrient dense foods from each food group such as brown rice in the grain group and fish in the protein group.
  • The meat and alternatives group was renamed to protein. This is confusing: protein is a nutrient, not a food. The other 3 wedges—fruits, vegetables, and grains–are foods. The other issue is that dairy (a food group off to the side of the plate) and grains also contain ample protein in our diet. A 6 oz Greek yogurt, for example, contains more than 15 grams of protein.
Where’s the protein? Below are some examples of how much protein is in various foods from the different food groups.
Protein (grams):
1 oz meat/fish/chicken: about 7g
3 oz meat/fish/chicken: about 21g
1/2 cup beans: about 7g
6 oz Greek yogurt 16 g
8 oz yogurt: about 11-12g
2 oz cheese: about 14g
1/2 cup quinoa (cooked): 4.5g


Nonetheless, the plate icon is a marked improvement from the 2005 Pyramid. Obesity is a huge crisis in the US and let’s hope that this new simple symbol helps to shape dinner plates around the country. Now, if we can get the restaurant industry to serve us a plate where half would be filled with fruits and vegetables that would be great progress.

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Happy Anniversary Let’s Move!

Last week, Michelle Obama’s anti obesity campaign “Let’s Move” turned one.  Born a year ago, it has brought obesity awareness to the forefront, especially in children. It has encouraged the packaged food industry to lower the sugar and salt in its foods and has improved the school lunch program.

The New York Times reported that the First Lady is now talking to the restaurant industry to in an effort to expand the push for healthier eating.  According to the article, a team of advisors to Mrs. Obama has been holding talks with the National Restaurant Association, in an effort to urge restaurants to offer smaller portions and to improve children’s meals by offering carrots, apples, and other healthy fare.

I commend Mrs. Obama’s efforts, and do indeed, hope that the restaurant industry will comply. Portion sizes in restaurants are still enormous and the standard fare on many children’s menus is fried chicken and pizza. Let’s applaud these initiatives and have good news to report on Let’s Move’s 2nd anniversary next year.

For more info on this initiative, visit

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