November 2010 Archives

Addressing 'Gaps in the Equation'

If the American Dietetic Association Foundation's (ADAF) recent survey on family eating habits, attitudes and physical activity has anything to say about it, we've done a good job teaching people what not to eat, but haven't done as well when it comes to what they should eat. Preliminary survey findings, which were released at ADA's recent Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Boston, show that while families generally understand which foods to avoid, they aren't so sure which foods they should eat the most. Case in point: When asked from which food group a person should eat the fewest servings daily, 74.2% of Caucasian, 63.2% and 66.4% of Hispanic children correctly identified the group of fats, oils and sweets. Less than 25% of parents and children, however, correctly identified grains as the food group from which the most servings should come.


Another survey, done by Harris Interactive and reported by HealthyWomen (HW), found that while 87% of women believe that a parent's weight does in fact affect a child's risk of becoming obese, only about 25% think that connection actually applies to them.


Both the ADAF and HW reports point to what I call "gaps in the equation" - places where we're headed in the right direction but still falling a bit short of the mark. Research like this, which links progress to gaps, confirms the progress we've made while providing the evidence needed to ensure our efforts add up to success.

By Susan Finn on November 25, 2010 4:26 PM | No Comments


I have written in this space before about my strong belief in the role of the supermarket as a nutrition learning laboratory and in the role of the supermarket dietitian as a community nutrition educator. One of the most important nutrition education tools in the supermarket is the Nutrition Panel. Dietitians have used it since it first appeared on the back of food labels in 1994, and many consumers have relied on it to help them make food choices.


Over the past several years, as the obesity crisis has taken over the nation, various front-of-package (FOP) food rating systems have debuted here in the United States and in other countries as well - notably Britain and the European Union. Although meant to help consumers make healthy choices (usually by flagging high amounts of certain "unhealthy" nutrients such as sodium and fat), the plethora of FOP labeling systems, all based on different criteria, also confuse consumers.


I think everyone now agrees that FOP labeling is a good idea - a quick tool for busy consumers who don't have time to read the whole Nutrition Panel or find the few pieces of information they want from the abundance of data presented. But like all good ideas that well-meaning people and organizations rush to bring to life, eventually benefits are overshadowed by confusion - in other words, too many cooks in the pot.


All of this is to say that I am very pleased to know that food retailers and food manufacturers have seen the handwriting on the supermarket shelf - and have recognized there's too much of it!


Last week, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced plans to join forces in developing a simple, evidence-based, transparent, Dietary Guidelines-based FOP nutrition labeling system designed to help shoppers make food choices based on information such as calories, sodium and saturated fat per serving. (See full announcement here.)


Thanks to this unprecedented retailer-manufacturer partnership, early next year information on calories and key nutrients will appear in an easy-to-understand format on the front label of many of the country's most popular food and beverage products. GMA and FMI also will provide consumers with information on nutrients needed to build a "nutrient-dense" diet and on "shortfall nutrients" that are under-consumed in the diets of most Americans.


Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been quick to praise the GMA-FMI initiative. For example, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) says he "applauds the food and beverage industry's voluntary commitment to update their labels and provide easy-to-read uniform nutrition information on the front of packages. By providing information on key nutrients in a more clear and straightforward way, we will empower families to build healthy diets. This move puts families, rather than the government, on the frontlines in combating obesity."


And it gives dietitians - especially those who work in supermarkets - another tool for creating on-the-spot nutrition learning opportunities.


By Susan Finn on November 1, 2010 7:14 AM | No Comments

About This Blog

I launched Nutrition Viewpoint to provide nutrition professionals, health care providers, and food and beverage marketers with a forum for examining issues, and trends that affect how we influence food and nutrition policies and how food and nutrition policies influence us. The thoughts and opinions I express in this blog are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my clients. Readers are invited to comment on my postings, and I hope that we can engage in a lively conversation. From time to time, Nutrition Viewpoint will also feature guest bloggers. Because of my keen interest in women's nutritional health, I have devoted a special section of this blog to women's issues.

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About Me

Susan Finn

I am a registered dietitian who has spent 30+ years as a nutrition communicator - interpreting the science of nutrition into practical applications for consumers, health professionals, and the food and beverage industry. I am a principal in the nutrition policy and positioning consultancy Finn/Parks & Associates. I currently serve as a senior advisor to Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and am also the CEO and president of the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition. I am a past president of The American Dietetic Association (ADA), the world's largest organization of nutrition experts, and am immediate past chair of the ADA Foundation. While I feel passionately about the importance of nutrition for people of all ages, I am particularly interested in women's nutritional health. Throughout my career, I have concentrated on women's unique nutritional needs and their critical role as gatekeepers for family health.

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