IOM calls for points system in FOP labelling

guideline dietary amount, GDA

The Institute of Medicine has released its Phase II recommendations on front-of-pack (FOP) labelling in the US, recommending a point system that would award more points to foods considered healthful. Points would be displayed on the front of food packaging, with the idea being that consumers could quickly ascertain the supposed healthfulness of a product on the basis of how many points it had.

Points would be awarded to foods that contained levels of saturated and trans fat, sodium and added sugars below a certain threshold. The IOM did point out in its findings that successful implementation of any FOP system would require a multi-stakeholder approach and public-private partnerships.

The following summary has kindly been provided by IFIC:

Background of the review
In response to a Congressional directive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to undertake a review of “front-of-package” (FOP) nutrition rating systems and symbols. The IOM Committee addressed this request using a two-phase approach; the IOM’s purpose was to: 
  • evaluate existing front-of-pack (FOP) labeling systems and symbols and their underlying nutrition criteria (Phase I); and
  • to assess which icons are most effective with consumer audiences based on consumer receptivity, understanding, and usability of specific FOP labeling system, and to make recommendations about a single, standardized front-of-package food guidance system and/or icon that best promotes healthful food and diet decisions (Phase II).
The report is available here.
The Phase II recommendations
After reviewing the available systems and research (peer-reviewed and non-reviewed evidence), and a public workshop to gather information from experts and to hear stakeholders, the IOM Committee has recommended a new nutrition rating system with symbols to display on the front of food and beverage packaging that graphically conveys calorie counts by serving size and a “point” value showing whether the saturated and trans fat, sodium and added sugars (nutrients of concern, as defined by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines) in the products are below threshold levels. According to the IOM, these nutrients are routinely over-consumed and associated most strongly with diet-related health problems and chronic diseases affecting many Americans, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers.

The IOM Committee recommended that this new FOP system should apply to all foods and beverages and should be the exclusive FOP system used on the packaging. The IOM Committee expressed that successful implementation of a FOP symbol system must include a multi-stakeholder, multifaceted, ongoing awareness and promotion campaign that must be a sustained and dynamic effort carried out by private-public partnerships.

The full report can be found here, and additional resources can be located here.

While the IFIC Foundation’s comprehensive consumer research from late 2010 was mentioned in the Committee’s Report and the GMA/FMI Facts Up Front program was mentioned at the meeting, the Committee appeared to give little weight to our consumer research indicating that the inclusion of calories plus negative and positive nutrients were more likely to produce consumer comprehension and comfort levels with FOP information, and they seemed dismissive of the marketplace realities of the Facts up Front program.  The IOM recommended system, however, has not been tested with consumers.
The Committee envisions a consumer-friendly, simple campaign similar to Energy Star® that would enable shoppers to instantly recognize “healthier” products by their number points and calorie information.

Moreover, the Committee believed that this system would encourage innovation and product reformulation in the food industry to develop healthful choices. The rating system proposed by the IOM Committee consists of a point-earning system in which the product would earn between 1 and 3 points if the saturated and trans fat, sodium, and added sugars are at or below acceptable levels based on qualifying criteria consistent with current regulatory requirements.

In other words, the more points a product has, the more healthful it is. Foods and beverages, however, would have to pass a separate set of criteria to determine if they were eligible to earn points at all, and if a product exceeds the eligibility criteria for any one of the nutrients of concern, it would not be able to display any points on the FOP, only calorie and serving size information.