Government Releases 'Calories Count' Approach to Combat Obesity

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday released a new Food and Drug Administration report calling on food makers to make several changes to help consumers count their calories easier.

The report by FDA's Obesity Working Group includes recommendations to strengthen food labeling, to educate consumers about maintaining a healthy diet and weight, and to encourage restaurants to provide calorie and nutrition information. It also recommends increasing enforcement to ensure food labels accurately portray serving size, revising and reissuing guidance on developing obesity drugs, and strengthening coordinated scientific research to reduce obesity and to develop foods that are healthier and low in calories.

"Counting calories is critical for people trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "This new report highlights FDA's overall strategy for getting consumers accurate, helpful information that allows them to make wise food choices at home, at supermarkets and in restaurants. Taking small steps to eat a more balanced diet and to stay physically active can go a long way to reversing the epidemic of obesity that harms far too many Americans."

The Grocery Manufacturers of America expressed its support for the new recommendations. "The administration's emphasis on energy balance -- that calories in must equal calories out -- is critical," said GMA Director of Nutrition and Scientific Policy Alison Kretser, MS, RD. "Maintaining a healthy weight comes down to balancing what you eat with what you do. GMA's member companies will most certainly accept Sec. Thompson's challenge to improve nutrition labeling to make it easier for consumers to achieve their health and nutrition goals."

The report's recommendations include:

• Evaluating how the "Nutrition Facts" panel on food labels can be revised to highlight the critical role calories play in consumers' diets -- such as increasing type size and adding a column to list quantitative amounts of calories as a Percent Daily Value for the entire package.

• Considering the authorization of health claims on certain foods that meet FDA's definition of "reduced" or "low" calorie.

• Defining such terms as "low," "reduced," or "free" carbohydrates, as well as providing guidance for the use of the term "net" in relation to carbohydrate content of food, in light of increasing consumer interest in low carbohydrate diets and in response to petitions asking FDA to define these terms.

• Focusing FDA's consumer education strategy on influencing behavior and promoting healthy eating choices with the basic message that "Calories Count."

• Encouraging the restaurant industry to launch a national, voluntary effort to include nutritional information for consumers at the point of sale.

• Increasing FDA's focus on enforcing accurate serving size declarations on food labels and advising manufacturers when the agency identifies apparent errors in declared serving sizes. FDA is issuing a letter to encourage the food industry to review its nutrition information and ensure that the serving size declared is appropriate for the food product in question.

• Revising and reissuing FDA's 1996 draft Guidance for the Clinical Evaluation of Weight-Control Drugs.

• Strengthening the coordination of research into obesity and the development of foods that are healthier and lower in calories with other HHS agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other public and private sector partners.
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