By Nicole Graham, Humanitas Global
World Hunger Day, an initiative introduced by the Hunger Project in 2011, will be honored on May 28, 2016 to celebrate sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. This year, the focus is on good nutrition. This encompasses improved child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer childrearing, and breaking a cycle of poverty. Currently, more than 795 million people around the world do not have enough to eat and 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
Ninety eight percent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. The United States certainly does not qualify as one of these countries, but its policymakers can play an important role in setting an example for prioritizing good nutrition. While considered one of the richest countries in the world, malnutrition is still rampant in the US. In 2014, there were 46.7 million people living in poverty, up from 37.3 million in 2012. 19.9 million Americans live in extreme poverty, living on a cash income that equates to half of the poverty line amounts.
Because malnutrition is defined as the “faulty nutrition due to inadequate or unbalanced intake of nutrients or their impaired assimilation or utilization”, this includes the United States’ struggles with diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Yet last week the United States undertook an important action to reform the way its consumers learn about the food they eat. On May 20, 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the first redrawing of nutrition information on food labels since the 1970s. Decades later, portion sizes in the United States have expanded significantly but nutrition labels did not reflect the same growth. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally acknowledged this, and health officials and advocates succeeded at modernizing the labels with contemporary American diets.
The FDA proposed changes in 2004, but they did not survive the lobbying of powerful food and beverage industries. Therefore, these nutrition label modifications can be considered a large victory and a precedent-setting move. Calories are now listed in large print, and are easier to read. Additionally, serving sizes listed are more comparable to the amount of the food that people realistically consume, and added sugars are now featured.
Most food manufacturers will be required to implement the label changes by July 2018. Producers with less than $10 million in annual sales will have an additional year to comply. These improvements are intended to make nutrition labels easier to read and understand, which will help consumers make better informed decisions in the grocery store. According to health officials, one-third of adults in the United States are obese. This epidemic has caused the rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancers and strokes to skyrocket.
The American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association have both offered positive feedback, indicating that they are looking forward to working with the FDA and Mrs. Obama on implementation. However, the Sugar Association’s response has been understandably resistant, citing that they were “disappointed” in the FDA’s decision to require an added sugars line in the new labels.
Nutrition labels have been hailed as a global instrument to promote healthier eating habits and a focus on nutrition. Every year, the European Food Information Council compiles a Global Update on Nutrition Labeling, examining factors such as front-of-pack (FOP) (also examined in one of our earlier blogs) versus back-of-pack (BOP) labeling, the type and number of nutrients labeled, and whether the label provides interpretive guidance to the consumer. According to the 2015 report, the precipitous rise of obesity has drawn attention back to nutrition labels. More and more countries are debating FOP labeling, or opting for these changes voluntarily.
Large progress has been made between 2007 and 2014, with more and more countries switching from policies of voluntary nutrition labels to mandatory labels. Now, the majority of countries have government stipulations requiring companies to list the nutrition levels of their products. The new labels in the United States could set an important precedent. Modifications could drive positive conversation, asserting that not only should the presence of the label matter, but its contents as well.
World Hunger Day seeks to end hunger by empowering people to become their own agents of change. Only with a bottom-up approach will communities see progress. Nutrition labels are a government solution with great impacts on the people. When citizens possess improved access to information about the food they eat, they are the drivers behind better nutrition, better decisions, and healthier communities.