A new coordinated effort from some of the world’s largest food companies will be announced next week at the American Dietetics Association annual conference — the Smart Choices Program. With backers that include food companies Kraft Foods, General Mills Inc., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., ConAgra, Kellog Co., and Unilever US, retailers like WalMart, and public health-oriented groups such as the Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and the American Heart Association, it’s a heavy hitter for sure.
In a nutshell, the label will now be on the front of the packages and will have 2 parts: First, If the product meets certain nutritional guidelines — developed over a two year process — they get a check mark. The reason, according to one report, is “they want to take the guesswork out of food choices.” Second, the calories and number of servings (you know, those little “serving size” chip bags are 2+ servings) will be right there.
Just a word or two. Even if consumers use this information, is it the best way to eradicate obesity and educate us? Putting aside whether the guidelines make sense and whether they may be rooted in food industry-supported academia and product market needs rather than what’s best for eaters, do we really want to encourage people to think less? Is the message now “It’s ok to sleep-walk down the aisle; just look for the check mark and you’re fine?”
Frankly, we think people should wake-up. If it’s true that only 2 to 4 percent of Americans have diets that meet the USDA guidelines, which was the reason the Smart Choices Program changed its guidelines, consumers need to understand that instead of being placated with check marks (what’s next? smiley-faces?), they need to take responsibility over what goes into their bodies beyond a label.
As an aside, we note that PepsiCo actually counts Diet Mountain Dew Code Red® and Cap’n Crunch® Cereal (Choco Crunch) as two of its “Smart Spot” products (though we’re not yet sure how the Pepsi list and the Smart Choice spots match up).
The point is, we think you’re far better to start paying attention since with nutritional categories like “snacks” and “water,” change won’t really come until you do.
Caution: The previous post may sound like we don’t want food companies to help people make smart choices. Not true! And we don’t have anything against dietitians either — one of our Editorial Board members is a fully credentialed Registered Dietition for almost thirty years. It’s just that we would prefer that people pay attention more to what they are doing than a check mark.