Nutritional labels on ‘healthy’ foods fail to tell the truth

Food marketers have taken advantage of lazy consumers who are trying to eat and live healthier lifestyles by slapping on health-related buzzwords on food packaging. With a rise in concern for creating healthier food-consumption habits, consumers have easily fallen into eating products they believe are significantly better because of misleading labels.

Fortunately, organizations such as the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have a duty to correct what food manufacturers have been getting away with for years.

According to a release from UH, a “false sense of health” and the failure for the general public to understand information presented on nutrition facts panels are contributing to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, Temple Northup, is the principal investigator of the study on misleading marketing terms and the intra-consumer relationship.

Looking at some of the most popular healthy buzzwords — such as antioxidant, whole grain, gluten-free, natural and organic — research findings have discovered that consumers are more likely to label a food as “healthy” that would have been labeled otherwise. Food labels containing the phrase “low fat” actually led to consumers overeating.

The implication of using “natural” as a label on food packaging will persuade a consumer that what they are eating is healthier, when the reality is there isn’t an official definition, with the exception of meat. Natural can be any product that contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is minimally processed, according to the USDA definition.

This shares no indication about how the animals were raised and whether or not they are free of hormones. The FDA does not provide a definition for the term “natural” either, leaving the labels of fruits, vegetables and numerous processed foods at the helm of food manufacturers.

“I actually thought that food packaging was regulated by someone,” said finance senior Angel Nguyenly. “If a food marketing company is using labels like whole grain or antioxidant, I would expect it to be beneficial to my health.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, commercials place a “health halo” on products such as Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, claiming to contain a full serving of vegetables. What the commercial won’t tell consumers is that the carrots in the ingredients are ranked below salt in volume.

“It kind of sounds like false advertising,” said music junior Roger Vasquez. “Even though people don’t take the extra time and effort to learn how to read the nutrition facts, consumers are being lied to in a way.”

The FDA allows the calorie count, salt content and fat content to be averaged by food manufacturers to place on the nutrition fact chart; however, food manufacturers are also allowed to be inaccurate within a margin of 20 percent. If the amount of trans fat is below .5 grams per serving, the FDA allows the manufacturer to put a “0” trans fat amount.

“There are people putting in a very real effort to be healthier, but these food marketers are obstacles to people trying to reach those goals just so they can sell their products,” Nguyenly said. “This is something that needs to be regulated. Nutrition facts should be as accurate as possible.”

According to Food Business News, consumer-packaged food companies are beginning to alter their marketing behavior to lower the risk of increasing scrutiny from the public. First labels to undergo major changes include “all natural” and “healthy” claims.

Labels are going to have to become more specific when explaining how their product is “natural” through simpler, truthful messaging. Consumers will expect full disclosure, and if a marketing label fails to do so, the risk for legal action exists.

Americans are becoming more aware and conscious about what they eat. Consumers want to purchase food that’s healthy and from a company that supports their personal beliefs and values when it comes to the produce and the treatment of animals.

Expect for change to come as consumers begin to take action against misleading labels on the packaging of the food they eat.

Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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