Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments today. My name is Marianne Smith Edge, and I’m the senior vice president for nutrition and food safety at the International Food Information Council Foundation. We’re a nonprofit organization with a mission to effectively communicate science-based information about health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good.
We applaud the DGAC recommendations that are a food-based, total-diet approach to help meet recommended dietary goals. When too much emphasis is placed on one food, nutrient, or ingredient, the importance of eating an overall balanced diet with the appropriate number of calories—along with proper levels of physical activity—often gets overlooked.
We believe our years of consumer research will help the Agencies as they develop and publish the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. The IFIC Foundation’s 2012 Food and Health Survey found that consumers believe it is easier to do their taxes than to figure out how to eat healthfully, proof of the confusion that exists. Evidence-based educational resources that consider consumer perceptions, motivations and challenges are needed, rather than a list of dietary limitations.
We have found that consumers remain largely unaware of personal calorie needs and are hesitant to take steps that balance their caloric intake with physical activity. Our 2014 Food and Health Survey found that more than half of Americans believe that portion control and increased physical activity are the most effective ways to manage their weight.
Positive and actionable messaging about weight management and physical activity that relate to real-life experiences will empower consumers to make healthful decisions. The flexible approach taken with the three eating patterns to promote a healthful diet could be extended to all forms of food, whether whole, frozen, packaged, or canned. A food’s nutrient composition, and the frequency and amount eaten, should be stressed, rather than its level of processing.
The DGAC Report states that “added sugars should be reduced in the diet and not replaced with low-calorie sweeteners.” However, the Report also states that the Committee “generally concurs with the European Food Safety Authority Panel on Food Additives that aspartame in amounts commonly consumed is safe.” These conflicting recommendation poses a communications challenge with respect to educating consumers.
Consumers prioritize taste when making food and beverage consumption decisions, and low-calorie sweeteners provide good-tasting options to help reduce caloric intake. When consumed as part of a balanced diet and with regular physical activity, low-calorie sweeteners can be an effective tool for weight management and a healthful option for people with diabetes.
We have conducted two significant consumer research projects that directly relate to recommendations made in the 2015 DGAC Report—one on Front-of-Pack labeling and the other on listing “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP).
With respect to Front-of-Pack labeling, our research in 2010 found that visible and clear icons highlighting specific nutrients to increase and limit made that information significantly easier for all consumers to comprehend and understand, regardless of educational level.
Our NFP and Added Sugars Labeling research in 2014 illustrates the limited understanding of “Added Sugars” in Nutrition Facts. DGAC’s recommendation to display this type of information on food labels fails to consider our research showing the high potential for misinterpretation among consumers.
Further consumer research is critical to understand the motivations and challenges consumers face in label comprehension and adopting healthful eating patterns.
IFIC and the IFIC Foundation are proud of our role as a convener across all sectors and stakeholders—because they all play important roles in improving the health of Americans. We also pride ourselves on our commitment to accurate, science-based information, and how it is communicated to consumers. We encourage the Agencies to make that the guidepost of their endeavors.