Call for Regulation of Nutritional Rating Systems

Oct 02, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A group dedicated
to fighting obesity in the province of Quebec is calling on the Canadian
government to regulate various nutritional rating systems that it says
confuse consumers.

The Quebec
Coalition on Weight-Related Problems says logos on packages intended
to designate the items as healthy follow different criteria and are
not always reliable.

“They have
so many logos at the grocery store that they need to have a clear and
correct system,” Suzie Pellerin, the coalition’s director, told CBC

A nutritionist, Stéphanie
Côté, pointed to a Smart Spot logo on a bag of Lay’s potato chips as
an example of the confusion taking place. She noted that the product
had half the salt of a regular bag of chips but still had 18 grams
of fat.

“They’re still
chips,” Ms. Côté said. “It is still a food we should only eat on an occasional

Pepsico defended the use
of the Smart Spot logo saying it was intended as a complement to the nutritional
information on packaging.

Health Canada, the Canadian
equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration, issued a statement that
it was “taking concrete steps to protect consumers from misleading and
unsubstantial health claims on foods.”

Discussion Questions:
Have the various nutritional rating systems and logos on packaging made
it more or less confusing for consumers to determine the right foods to
eat? Does the government or some other body need to step in and establish
a single criteria for nutritional ratings of food products?

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9 Comments on "Call for Regulation of Nutritional Rating Systems"

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Sandy Miller
Sandy Miller
11 years 7 months ago

The real best way to convey specific health information is by placing the message on the product, in the store.

David Biernbaum
11 years 7 months ago

Regulation of Nutritional Rating Systems? Perhaps some, at least to regulate truth in advertising, however, at some point in time the consumer needs to take some responsibility for himself or herself to know that regardless of the symbols, words, and labels, that no candy or chips consumed in excess are particularly good for you, even if there is a red circle on the package that says, “smart.”

John Lingnofski
John Lingnofski
11 years 7 months ago

I agree with David. This is a well-meaning attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t need solving. Does anyone really believe that consumers are being duped and need protection from misleading nutritional claims? Everyone already knows that snacks are extra calories and fall into the category of “junk food.”

Gregg London
Gregg London
11 years 7 months ago

While I grant you that Frito-Lay telling me their Potato Chips are “healthy” is a bit dubious, the real issue with Endorsements (Smart Choices, Heart Healthy, etc.) and Rating Systems (Food Stars, Nuval, etc.) is the nature OF the recommendation: general versus personalized.

Creating a Guideline based on Fat, Sodium, Carbohydrates, Sugar, etc. is–at best–an objective guideline, subject to considerable discussion.

However, what’s lacking from these “guidelines” is personalized information.

In other words, what may be best suited for me might not be suitable for someone else.

As a U.P.C. Data Provider, it’s quite clear that even the general guidelines employed by manufacturers and trade associations varies widely.

That being the case, who do you “trust”?

Giacinta Shidler
Giacinta Shidler
11 years 7 months ago

It’s too simple to pass the buck to the consumer. Consumers are lazy. They want to eat better but don’t want to think too hard. If a shopper sees a green check mark, that’s shorthand for “Hey, I’m healthy! Buy me!” Food manufacturers know this. That’s why so many of them jumped behind the much maligned Smart Choices program, which in my opinion amounted to false advertising regarding certain products. I do think there needs to be some sort of regulation so that unwary consumers aren’t misled.

Roger Saunders
11 years 7 months ago
Listening to the consumer does offer a clue as to how they might view this topic. In the August, 2009 Consumer Intentions & Actions (CIA) Survey of 8,543 Adults some health-related and “snack food” questions were included. Here are a couple of the figures that this survey had to offer around these questions (the sample size has a margin of error of +/- 1%): Regarding your HEALTH, which of the following are you doing? (check all that apply) % of Adults 18+Watching my calorie intake 31%Watching my fat intake 34%Watching my Salt/Sodium intake 28%Watching my carbohydrates intake 21%Exercise 3+ times per week 35% The respondents were then asked how often they buy snack food products. 45% said they buy candy once per month or more frequently; 57% said the same about cookies; ditto for ice cream and corn chips. Maybe some of the consumers don’t want to be saved from the ravages of some of their foods. Maybe they have to be taught to read the labels. Maybe they know exactly what they are doing.… Read more »
Lee Peterson
11 years 7 months ago

Obviously, the existing systems, especially in the U.S., are NOT working. They should be more like this:


You know, simple, to the point, in big red letters in a big red square. This approach seems to have worked before, although even that took a while.

Bernice Hurst
11 years 7 months ago
Come on, I think most of us here know that even if consumers “know” what is and isn’t good for them, they appreciate shortcuts. I think most of us here also know that manufacturers and retailers are going to abide by the rules and not do anything wrong, as the current jargon goes, while simultaneously and very innocently not being absolutely entirely clear in what they tell consumers. Far be it from me to imply that they are trying to find which people they can fool some of the time but there are now so many ways of presenting information that the time and effort involved in understanding what is in much of what’s on the shelves really is prohibitive. The arguments about providing a sensible, unified system have already gone on for years and I can’t see any end in sight. There are bodies trying to understand some of the so-called health claims made and even they are having to spend ridiculous amounts of time, effort and money before admitting that what you see… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
11 years 7 months ago

Inconsistency among systems is a problem for consumers who often shop several stores and so may see conflicting nutritional rating systems on the same products. It seems to me that these nutritional rating systems usually steer people in the right direction, but the companies offering these systems need to get together and evaluate what is working and what is not and share that collaboratively in the industry and government.


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