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Viewpoint: Unhealthy food needs prominent warning labels


October 11, 2020

The United States should require prominent warning labels on the front of product packaging to alert consumers when food products contain high levels of unhealthy nutrients, according to an October 1 2020 JAMA Viewpoint article. Marissa Hall

The piece, coauthored by Faculty Fellow Marissa Hall, details how five countries (Chile, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay) have passed legislation requiring nutrient warnings since 2016.

In research published in July 2020 in PLOS Medicine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Chile found there were important decreases in the levels of sugar and sodium in packaged foods and beverages within just one year of a 2016 Chilean law requiring front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy foods, showing that these kinds of regulations can lead to concrete nutritional improvements of such popular products.

Hall and co-author Anna Grummon write, “Whether this approach will be effective in the US is not yet known, but the increase in diet-related disease is an important health challenge in the US. Given the magnitude of diet-related diseases, no single policy is likely to be the sole answer to solving poor diet and obesity. Instead, multiple interventions across many sectors are needed. Nutrient warnings are an important strategy that should be leveraged as soon as possible. Nutrient warnings could help inform consumers, encourage the food industry to make healthier products, benefit public health, counteract certain industry marketing practices, and potentially improve health equity.