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, the health and fitness industry's leading resource for fitness and wellness professional...