In a move towards the fight against obesity, the Food and Drug Administration may require food manufacturers to post nutritional information on the front of packages. But the New York Times reports that this effort underscores a larger issue: serving sizes for many packaged foods are too small. For example, look at the calorie count and serving size for a bowl of cereal — odds are that you're eating two bowls and twice as many calories.
Consequently, the FDA is trying to reconcile serving sizes with reality. Barry Popkin is a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina. As he told the NY Times, “If you put on a meaningful portion size, it would scare a lot of people. They would see, I’m going to get 300 calories from that, or 500 calories.”
More importantly, portion sizes — not serving sizes — have ballooned over the past 20 years. One expert points out that when most fast-food franchises were established, a “regular” serving of French fries contained 201 calories. Today, a “supersized” serving of fries contains about 610 calories.
Servings sizes continue to mystify experts, especially if you look at basic junk food items. As the NY Times reports, ice cream has a serving size of half a cup. A serving size of children’s cereal is generally three-quarters of a cup. This is alarming when you consider the many sugar-filled cereals on the market.
Nutritional experts point to the potato chip as a perfect example. According to the NY Times, most potato or corn chip bags today show a one-ounce serving size that contains about 150 calories. But how many people stop after eating an ounce of potato chips? For some brands loaded with salt and fat, this can just mean a few chips.
Additionally, companies often mislabel their nutritional information. For instance, Duane Reade is a pharmacy chain that sells small bags of potato chips with “100 calories” emblazoned across the front. The trumpeted calorie count is for a one-ounce serving, but the bag contains 1.3 ounces. So the full bag is around 130 calories. The NY Times contacted Duane Read, who is apparently now correcting its labeling system.
The FDA says posting nutritional information and revised serving sizes on the front of a package will help confused shoppers make better choices in the supermarket. Companies can choose to participate in front package posting, but the FDA may impose regulations to make sure companies don’t merely highlight positive information. It remains to be seen if shoppers will be confused by this new system of labeling.
For further reading: One bowl = 2 servings. FDA may change that