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HHS: Clearer Nutrient Labels Coming Soon

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

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."

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.
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