Happy 20th Birthday, Nutrition Facts Label

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It's hard to believe that the familiar rectangular box found printed on food packaging is only 20 years old. Personally, I can't recall a time without it, and I'm old enough that I should be able to remember such a time.

The Nutrition Facts label was introduced to the American public 20 years ago on January 6, 1993. It first became mandated following the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.

The label brought standardization to the nutritional content for most packaged foods, including breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts and drinks.

Says Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., senior nutrition science and policy advisor in the FDA's Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine:

"It was revolutionary. For the first time, people had consistent information they need right at the point of purchase for the majority of packaged food products."

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Prior to that, manufacturers provided nutritional information on a voluntary basis only, one that was not consistent from product to product, according to Felicia Billingslea, M.S., director of the FDA's food labeling and standards staff.

"The label is all about the attributes of the food. It's not to say that this is a good food or a bad food. It provides information that consumers can use and rely upon in developing healthful diets for themselves."

On The Rise

According to the FDA, use of the Nutrition Facts label has been increasing: Survey data suggests that more and more consumers are using the label to make food choices—a full 54% of those surveyed in 2008, compared to just 44% in 2002. That's good news, since it means companies are paying closer attention to what they're putting in their products.

As an example of this influence, the FDA cites the decrease in consumption of trans fat, which has been linked to heart disease, primarily because of a decrease in manufacturers' use of partially hydrogenated oils. From the late 1990s to 2010, trans fat intake in adults decreased from 4.6 grams to 1.3 grams per day, with most of the reduction occurring after trans fat was added to the food label in 2003.

Blazing the Global Trail

The creation of the Nutrition Facts label has had implications worldwide, according to Claudine Kavanaugh, Ph.D.,M.P.H.,R.D., an FDA scientist:

"FDA was really a trailblazer in nutrition labeling. The Nutrition Facts label has been adapted by countries around the world that have chosen to mandate food labeling."

Click here to see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Source: FDA Consumer Health Information

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