Obesity & Food Labels

Today, the FDA announced new regulations regarding food and menu labeling, highlighting the caloric content of  a typical serving.  Unfortunately, while accurate public information is always welcome, the labels will only be read by persons who are motivated to limit their caloric intake and those committed to a healthy diet.

Most adults who overeat and almost all children pay no attention to food labels.  Someone prone to consuming giant sodas and large amounts of sugary foods are not likely to change their habit in response to information on the package.  Like cigarette use, warning labels are appropriate but not terribly effective in changing behavior; public education, social pressure, limitations on advertising, taxation and age restrictions on purchases have significantly reduced tobacco use in our country and a similar approach will be necessary to turn the tide of obesity.

Parents are the key to modeling healthy habits in children, aided by preschool and elementary school programs that encourage good nutrition and regular exercise.  Unlike tobacco companies, which have long denied the health consequences of using their products, food manufacturers have demonstrated some sensitivity to the obesity scourge but must go a lot farther in reducing the sugar content and improving the nutritional value of popular childhood foods.  In the end, the attack on obesity must begin early in childhood and involve the concerted efforts of parents, social programs, school systems and the food industry.