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February 27, 2014

New food labels to get a new look – will feature calories, sugar content

WASHINGTON —

Those "Nutrition Facts" labels that are plastered on nearly every food package found in grocery stores are getting a new look.

Calories would be in larger, bolder type, and consumers for the first time would know whether foods have added sugars under label changes being proposed by the Obama administration. Serving sizes would be updated to make them more realistic. A serving of ice cream, for example, would double to a full cup, closer to what people actually eat.

The proposed overhaul comes as science has shifted. While fat was the focus two decades ago when the labels first were created, nutritionists are now more concerned with how many calories we eat. And serving sizes have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing multiple servings, so the calorie count is lower.

The idea isn't that people should eat more; it's that they should understand how many calories are in what they are actually eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not ideal consumption.

"Our guiding principle here is very simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," said first lady Michelle Obama, who was to join the Food and Drug Administration in announcing the proposed changes Thursday at the White House.

Mrs. Obama was making the announcement as part of her Let's Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary. On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of unhealthy foods in schools.

The new nutrition labels are likely several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it's final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply.

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