Biden unveils plan for mandatory traffic light nutrition labels on all food and drink


The Biden Administration wants to make traffic light nutrition labels mandatory on the front of food packaging and offer counseling to overweight people as part of a massive crackdown on the nation’s bulging waistline.

The former proposal would see all food and drink sold in stores or supermarkets carry a warning about their salt, fat and sugar content on the front of the product — either in a color-coded or star rating system.

If it gets the go-ahead, it would mark a step up from the existing setup which allows processed food companies to only have to put nutritional information on the backs of packaging.

The White House said the plan is designed ‘to help consumers, particularly those with lower nutrition literacy, quickly and easily identify foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern’.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now research and propose a standardized front-of-package labeling system that will likely go out for consultation.

Biden’s administration also wants to make the criteria stricter for companies who put ‘healthy’ claims on their food packaging, amid fears the current system allows for products that are full of vitamins but also high in sugar to make the marketing claim.

Other proposals include obesity counseling for those receiving Medicare, and an expansion of the federal program offering families cash for purchasing healthy food. 

A senior administration official told reporters on a call the plans were aimed at ‘shifting our healthcare system away from just treating disease to preventing it’. 

Biden has pledged to slash the number of Americans suffering from diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes by 2030, though no concrete targets have been set.

More than 300,000 Americans die from weight-related issues every year, estimates suggest. A staggering 40 per cent of adults — or 105million people — are classified as obese, while up to 35million have type 2 diabetes.

Pictured above are the labels that could be applied to four popular products in the US if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opts for the same traffic light nutrition label system as the UK, where it has been in use for more than a decade. The system flags foods by whether they contain low (green), moderate (orange) or high (red) amounts of fat, sugar and salt. Those that have more green labels may be a healthier option

The move is part of the White House's plans to tackle America's growing obesity crisis, with more than 40 percent of adults now classified as obese. The above shows adults classified as obese (blue) and severely obese (green). It is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

The move is part of the White House’s plans to tackle America’s growing obesity crisis, with more than 40 percent of adults now classified as obese. The above shows adults classified as obese (blue) and severely obese (green). It is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

What’s in Biden’s waistline-busting proposals?  

The Biden administration has today unveiled a massive crackdown on obesity in the United States.

Official statistics show 40 percent of Americans are obese. 

This in turn is leading to a rise in fatalities due to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions where being overweight significantly raises the risk. 

Estimates suggest more than 300,000 people die from obesity-related complications in the US every year. To tackle these issues, President Biden will set out the below plan:

  • Traffic light nutrition labels: All food or drink will have labels placed on the front showing their fat, sugar and salt content, under the proposal. These will be colored red for those with the highest levels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now consult on them, before coming up with proposals. In other countries where they are used, like the UK where they’ve been in place for more than a decade, several studies suggest they lead to healthier food choices;
  • Obesity counseling: Proposals suggest mandating this for all adults who are on Medicare, or those more than 65 years old. This is because being overweight at this age raises the risk of several conditions;
  • More money for healthy food: The Administration also suggests expanding the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supports low income families to buy healthier food. Allowances are set to be raised by $26 per person per month on average from Saturday;
  • Healthy school meals for all: Under plans to end hunger in the US, Biden also called for free school meals. This came into place during the COVID pandemic, but expired in June. Officials want to work to expand the offer again.

The proposals have been laid out in the White House’s 44-page National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health report published Monday. 

It also makes the ambitious target of ending hunger in the US by 2030, including expanding monthly benefits that help low-income Americans buy food. 

It said it would work to expand Medicaid and Medicare access to obesity counseling and nutrition.

‘The consequences of food insecurity and diet-related diseases are significant, far reaching, and disproportionately impact historically underserved communities,’ Biden wrote in a memo outlining the White House strategy. 

‘Yet, food insecurity and diet-related diseases are largely preventable, if we prioritize the health of the nation.’

Current guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services say Americans should not consume more than about 12 teaspoons of sugar a day, up to 2.4 ounces of fat, or 68 grams, and a teaspoon of salt. 

A traffic light system on food packaging would bring the US in line with the UK, where such a scheme came into force more than a decade ago.

Several studies suggest the color-coded scheme leads to healthier food choices, but there is no concrete evidence on its effect on health. 

Under the British traffic light system, red means the product is high in a nutrient and that you should try to cut down on it, eat less often or even have it in smaller amounts. 

Reds mean the product is high in a nutrient and that you should try to cut down on it, eat less often or even have it in smaller amounts.

Amber means medium. If a food contains mostly amber, you can eat it most of the time. 

And green means low. The more green lights a label displays, the healthier the food choice is.

Foods and drinks are considered to be high in fat if they contain more than 0.6 ounces for every 3.5-ounce portion , or 17.5 grams for every 100 grams.

They are labeled as high in sugar if they have more than 0.8 ounces per portion (22.5g), and as high in salt if they contain more than 0.05 ounces.

The plan also suggests offering obesity counselling to people who receive Medicare — around 65million people — and healthy school meals for all.

It also suggested offering another $26 per person per month on average to those who receive support from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps people to buy healthier food.

Biden is hosting a conference this week on hunger, nutrition and health, the first by the White House since 1969.

That conference, under President Richard Nixon, was a pivotal moment that influenced the U.S. food policy agenda for 50 years.

Shown above is what a Lucky Charms package could look like if a nutrition chart is applied (circled in red)

This shows what a tropicana drink could look like with a traffic light color wheel (circled above)

NEW PACKAGING?: The above show what U.S. packages could look like with the new traffic light nutrition system. It is circled in red above. The system is already in place in countries including the UK, where it has been run for more than a decade. The wheel has been based on the standards used in the UK for the above.

A Fritos bag with a traffic light nutrition label (circled in red)

Jif peanut butter with a traffic light nutrition label (circled in red)

NEW PACKAGING?: The above shows what a Fritos and Jif peanut butter package could look like if the traffic light nutrition label is applied to them (circled in red). It is based on the standards used in the UK for the above

It led to a greatly expanded food stamps program and gave rise to the Women, Infants and Children program, which serves half the babies born in the U.S. by providing women with parenting advice, breastfeeding support and food assistance.

Over the years, cuts to federal programs coupled with stigmas over welfare and big changes to how food and farming systems are run have prompted declines in access to food.

But the President is hoping this week’s conference is similarly transformative. President Nixon’s goal had been to ‘put an end to hunger in America for all time.’

And yet 10 percent of U.S. households in 2021 suffered food insecurity, meaning they were uncertain they could get enough food to feed themselves or their families because they lacked money or resources for food, according to the FDA.

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