The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to roll out updated nutrition labels on food packages next year in the hopes of making them more realistic and useful. The agency plans to revise serving sizes to better reflect the amount of food people actually consume.
"Nutrition labels were born in 1993, but the issue is that our eating habits and the nutrition science has really evolved since the 1970's and the 1980's, which is what we based our current nutrition labels on," Dr. Tara Narula, a CBS News medical contributor and cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told "CBS This Morning." "So what the FDA is trying to do is really update our nutrition labels, make them more realistic and more like what we actually eat today."
The new labels are in line with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, passed in 1990, which requires that serving sizes accurately reflect what people typically eat, not the recommended amount. The label overhaul, which the FDA announced last year, will be the first update in 20 years.
But some are concerned the new labels will backfire. Harvard's Behavioral Science and Regulation Group, for example, recently warned that consumers may believe that the FDA has "endorsed" larger serving sizes as healthy.
"The concern is that people may misinterpret it and think that actually a bigger serving size means that's what they should be eating or that's what the recommended portion size is," Narula said.
Under the new guidelines, a 20-ounce bottle of soda, which currently adds up to 2.5 servings, would count as one serving, as would a 12-ounce can. Similarly, the label on a pint of ice cream typically says it has four half-cup servings per container. "The label will be revised to reflect that a pint is actually two one-cup servings," Narula explained.
The FDA estimates that about 17 percent of existing food labels need to be updated.
Narula pointed out that the agency is also considering a redesign of the labels, to display the serving size and calorie amount in bigger and bolder type to emphasize the numbers.
"The FDA is really trying to help us eat healthier," she said, "to help us curb the obesity epidemic, not contribute to it."