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HHS secretary: Clearer nutrient labels coming soon

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Kathleen Sebelius
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a global obesity summit, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010, in Jackson, Miss. Making healthy food choices at the supermarket will get easier for some in 2011 as the federal government and food manufacturers move forward with an initiative for front-of-package labeling.
Rogelio V. Solis/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Shelia Byrd, Associated Press

      JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Making healthy choices at the supermarket may get a little easier next year when food makers and retailers start putting easier-to-read nutrition labels on the front of packages, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday during an obesity summit in Mississippi.

      Obama's health secretary said several food makers and retailers had agreed to voluntarily put the labels on the front, and consumers could start seeing the new labels in the next six months.

      "It's difficult to read those tiny nutrition backs on the back of packages, which by the way haven't been updated in 20 years," Sebelius said.

      The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute said a $50 million education campaign would begin in 2011 to raise consumer awareness about the new labels, which will include information on calories and nutrients.

      Sebelius also questioned some of the self-labeling food makers are currently using and said the Food and Drug Administration had warned manufacturers.

      "I don't know how many of you have shopped lately and seen things like big green checks saying 'healthy choice' on everything from mayonnaise to Fritos," she said. "I think it might be healthier than something, but we're not quite sure what determines that as a healthy choice."

Food labels
Nutritional information labels are shown on various packaged foods. The federal government is planning to require that food labels be moved to the front of the box on thousands of products.
LARRY CROWE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Frito-Lay spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez said the snack package never had a label saying it was healthy.

      Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said the vast majority of companies are complying with the federal rules for labels.

      "Each year, a handful of the hundreds of thousands of labels are subject to a warning letter," Faber said.

      Sebelius spoke to hundreds of scientists, business leaders and policy makers during the Global Obesity Summit hosted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.

      Mississippi leads the nation in obesity rates, said University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. Statistics show Mississippi spent $900 million on obesity-related illness in 2008.

             (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)