food labels confound consumers

by Sandy Todd Webster on Sep 27, 2011

Food for Thought

Results of a recent telephone survey commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) revealed that a significant percentage of consumers seem confused about what constitutes a proper serving size of certain packaged foods.

Specifically, CSPI reports that labels for canned soup, ice cream, coffee creamer and aerosol nonstick cooking sprays understate the calories, sodium and saturated fat Americans are likely to consume when eating those products. In an August letter sent to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Margaret Hamburg, CSPI, a nonprofit consumer group, again urged the government agency to revise its serving-size regulations.

Canned soup presents a dramatic example of how unrealistic the stated serving sizes can be, according to CSPI. Labels for Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup indicate a serving is 1 cup (a little less than half a can) and has 790 milligrams (mg) of sodium—about half the sodium most adults should consume in a day. But according to CSPI’s survey results, 64% of consumers eat the whole can at one sitting and consequently consume 1,840 mg of sodium—more than a day’s worth for most adults. Only 10% eat 1-cup portions.

Similarly, CSPI’s survey found that 62% of consumers eat the entire contents of a can of (reconstituted) condensed soup like Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. A full can holds 2,390 mg of sodium—far more than the 890 mg listed for a single serving. That amount of sodium applies only if the can is divided into 2½ portions. Another 27% of consumers eat half a can at a sitting, so they get 1,195 mg.

“Given the prevalence of hypertension, heart disease and stroke in America, we need accurate food labels that would ensure that consumers really know what they’re likely to consume,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should define serving sizes to reflect what consumers actually eat, as the law requires, not what the soup industry pretends that they eat.”

FDA regulations specify standard serving sizes for various foods to enable consumers to compare different brands. However, those serving sizes were based on data collected in the late 1970s. The FDA is now reviewing serving sizes in a broader revision of food focus

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.