Welcome to the year 2012! The bustle of the holiday season is over, and before this year gets rolling I wanted to share my last article The Sprout, the graduate student nutrition newspaper of the Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University.
Q-and-A with Alice Lichtenstein: Close-up with the IOM’s Front-of-Pack Labeling Committee
A plethora of nutrition rating systems are crowding the limited space on the front of food packages, and causing confusion in the grocery aisle. In October the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the second of a two-phase analysis on front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labels. The report recommended a standardized FOP label system, featuring a prominent display of calories per serving, along with 0 to 3 nutritional “points” based on saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.
Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., senior scientist at the Jean Mayor USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and Gershoff Professor at the Friedman School, served as vice-chair for the IOM Committee.
Q: How did you become vice-chair for the IOM Committee?
They called me and said the chair was going to be a behavior science person, and that they were looking for a nutrition person to serve as vice-chair. The idea of working with people in different type of expertise was very appealing, and probably why I accepted the position.
Q: How did the committee decide on the nutritional “points” system?
We didn’t want to repeat what was on the back of the pack (Nutrition Facts panel). So we looked to other successful government systems such as the Energy Star program, the crash test program, the rating of mileage in gasoline for cars.
We decided on a two-step approach. First, to decide if a food will get any points, based on the amounts of saturated and trans fat, sugar and sodium. Second, if the food is not above the cut point for any of the nutrients, then it is evaluated for qualification for 1, 2, or 3 points.
It is important to note that the proposed system is tied to the Nutrient Facts panel. If an item gets a check, lets say, because it is low in sodium, a check would also appear near sodium on the back of package as well.
Q: If you could convene a new IOM committee today, what topic would you like to tackle next?
Oh, I’d like to go more into consumer behavior, to actually test some of the labeling systems and see if they effect purchasing. And if not, then work with an even broader group of behavioral experts to figure out how we can take the next leap forward in communicating nutrition information.
View the full interview here.