We take it as a positive sign that as soon as the Smart Choices Program front-of-pack labeling program began rolling out in supermarkets this month, people had questions about the nutrition criteria behind the program. Specifically, some questioned why some pre-sweetened cereals, snacks, sandwich spreads, and other products were included in the program.
When promoting smart food choices it is important to talk about the decisions we all face in the supermarket each week. Dialogue is good.
Here are a few points to help in the dialogue on front-of-pack labeling systems:
- The Smart Choices Program was created as a collaborative effort among industry and nutrition experts, based on the latest authoritative dietary guidance, to help people navigate the entire supermarket. It involves all food categories - fresh and packaged foods.
- The Smart Choices Program was developed by some of the most experienced and accomplished professionals in nutrition science - a consortium of national health organizations, academic researchers, food companies, and retailers. The Smart Choices Program is based on the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and emphasizes a whole diet approach. A major strength of the Smart Choices Program is that the nutrition criteria can be modified and updated as the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans evolve. As consensus science shifts, the nutrition criteria will be updated to reflect that science.
- To qualify for the Smart Choices Program nutrition symbol, products must meet specific nutritional benchmarks. For example, foods cannot exceed "nutrients to limit," including: total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars, and sodium. Additionally, products must include one or more "nutrients to encourage" or provide at least a one-half serving from at least one "food group to encourage."1
- On average, only about 5% of the sugar consumed by U.S. children comes from ready-to-eat cereals, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Pre-sweetened cereals have been demonstrated to be a good source of vitamins and minerals for children. Studies around the globe have consistently shown that kids who eat breakfast have more physical and mental energy than those who do not. Cereal eaters are also more likely to have healthier body weights and greater vitamin and mineral intakes.2 3
- The Smart Choices Program aims to make it easier to identify smarter choices in the supermarket. Manufacturers submit their products for review against the strict nutrition criteria of the Smart Choices Program to a third-party program administrator. If the product meets the criteria, which was independently established by the Keystone Roundtable, the company will then put the Smart Choices Program icon on the front of the package, along with calorie information that identifies calories per serving and servings per container. Because of its scope and the science behind the new nutrition front-of-pack system, this new program will bring clarity and consistency wherein previously there were numerous different front-of-pack logo programs with varying nutrition criteria that were not transparent to the public.
- This program is a step in the right direction when it comes to helping people make smarter choices throughout the supermarket, being realistic about what and how people eat and beginning the education process. The Smart Choices Program encourages balanced eating by evaluating foods across every aisle and section of the supermarket. It takes into account that all foods and beverages must include positive nutrition, not just the absence of negatives. Furthermore, the program was designed to drive product innovation. With transparent nutrition criteria, based on authoritative dietary guidance, manufacturers are now able to formulate, and reformulate, products to meet the Smart Choices Program criteria. Products that meet these criteria can help consumers identify foods that help them adopt eating habits that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.
- By providing a single, simple communication on the front of the package, the Smart Choices Program can help alleviate confusion from the multiple labels in the supermarket and help today's busy shoppers make smarter choices for their families in store and at home.
- Academic researchers from Tufts, Texas A&M, and George Mason universities, along with involvement from the American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation and the International Food Information Council, participated pro bono and independently in the development of the Smart Choices Program over the course of more than two years to evaluate the criteria and ensure it's in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We are proud to be involved in the ongoing development and implementation of the program.
1 Albertson AM, Anderson GH, Crockett SJ, Goebel MT. Ready-to-eat cereal consumption: Its relationship with BMI and nutrient intake of children aged 4 to 12 years. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103(12):1613-1619.
2 Bazzano LA, Song Y, Bubes V et al. Dietary intake of whole and refined grain breakfast cereals and weight gain in men. Obes Res 2005;13(11):1952-1960.
3 Barton BA, Eldridge AL, Thompson D, et al. The relationship of breakfast and cereal consumption to nutrient intake and body mass index: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105:1383-1389.