by Marion Nestle
May 7 2013

Grocery Manufacturers Association says: Eat less, move more (it’s your fault, not ours)

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) recently released an interactive  guide to using Facts Up Front, its front-of-package nutrition symbols.

Here’s an excerpt from the GMA’s Infographic:

The GMA’s press release said Facts Up Front

empowers consumers to make informed choices. It arms them with critical nutrition information about their favorite products…Through this website, we are providing consumers with the knowledge and tools they need to build a healthful diet.

The website includes, among other things:

The GMA says:

Facts Up Front labels…highlight nutrition information – calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving – in a clear, easy-to-understand format. The labels also provide consumers with valuable information about “nutrients to encourage”…The labeling program was developed in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call on the food and beverage industry to help consumers construct a healthy diet for themselves and their families.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, I can’t believe that this is what the First Lady had in mind.  I view Facts Up Front as the industry’s end run around the FDA’s long delayed attempt to make front-of-package nutrition information actually useful to consumers.

I’m greatly in favor of eating less, eating better, and moving more as a way to manage weight in today’s food marketing environment.  

But coming from GMA, the message takes on additional meaning: it’s up to you to make healthful food choices.  The companies represented by GMA take no responsibility for the effects of their products on health or of their marketing on your food choices.

  • The infographic conveniently features none of the products that GMA members actually sell. GMA is the trade association for packaged food. Fresh produce (apples, broccoli), raw meat, salt all have their own trade associations and don’t use Facts Up Front. Simply putting the phrase “eat less” on any of their materials is big and I’m sure they’ll be hearing from their actual membership about it!

  • Marion,

    I think we all share blame and have some faulty logic in regard to the great American diet and lifestyle.

    Because of all the books, pundits and experts who discuss healthy eating, confusion reigns.

    Let’s be candid: Mark Bittman advises being a vegan before six. Okay, this means I can’t eat my delicious yogurt for breakfast or indulge in a hard-boiled egg for a snack. Michael Pollan, who does have a great message, leads us to believe that cooking takes a long time and more than likely it is expensive. I know first-hand that home cooking can be quick, easy, fast, and yes, hard-to-believe inexpensive.

    Then we have best-selling books that advise us to lay off the wheat and the meat. Of course, the Paleo folks tell us that all “hell” broke loose 10,000-years ago. So, I must lay off the beans, lentils, and eat more meat – grass-fed of course.

    If I listened to all these experts, I would be:

    1. Neurotic
    2. Dead – because I would starve to death

    So, while the GMA might not have our best interest at heart, a simpler message from all would be most appreciated and helpful.

    Ironically, if health is the issue, most “diet camps” share much in common. The infograph that I go by is on this page:

    Kindest regards,

    Ken Leebow

  • Mister Worms

    Here we go again. Looks like Eat Less Move More is a permanent cultural fixture at this point as it’s now been depicted in 1001 cutesy info graphics as if the phrase itself didn’t say it all.

    How about an infographic on human nutritional requirements – not just rock bottom minimums, but optimal levels for good health? And at what levels are Americans consuming those nutrients despite eating “too much”? If we can only eat so many calories in a day, show a variety of 500 calorie meals and how the nutritional content stacks up.

    If the goal is better public health, this would be a good start on providing people with some actionable information. Food is more than fuel in the tank (even a lean person has plenty of that stored up); our bodies are beautiful and complex systems which require the correct inputs (vitamins, minerals, sun, sleep and movement) to function at their best.

  • JS

    Why do we have to rely on what others do to make our own choices? Why do we have to give our power away to the govt and corporations to helps us make our own decisions?

    I am for getting us to a more healthy and balanced lifestyle, but I am on the fence about which is best. I particularly don’t care for the GMA, nor do I need the government to let me know what is best for my body. Why should you?

  • Mark Ohler

    Very scary. It’s up to me? No way. I want a government regulator to help me make good choices. I’m just not up to doing it myself.

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  • Jon

    It is up to us. We can do it! WE CAN DO IT!

  • Cathy RD

    I posted a link to this post on facebook marion, with this comment:

    “When grocery stores take chocolate bars and candy and soft drinks away from point-of-sale racks and replace them with affordable veggies, fruit, milk, whole grains, and unsalted nuts -to-go, then I’ll take them seriously. Walk the talk you corporations! After all, you’re a “person” and persons must take individual responsibility, right??!”

  • Cathy RD

    @ Mark. We need a food environment that supports our individual responsibilities, not one that sabotages us at every turn and twist in our lives.

    Do you like being told how to drive? Government dictates car production (seat belts, exhaust, safety testing, lights), road building (maximum inclines declines curves, quality of material, width, shoulders, lines on the road, traffic signals), licensing/insurance and enforcement (age, vision, drunk driving), and driving laws (wearing seat belts, driving within the lines, obeying traffic signals and speed limits) because it saves lives and promotes a civilized society. When there were only a few cars there were very few problems. Once they permeated society we needed rules, enforcement, fines. There was initial resistance, now it’s taken for granted.

    So it goes, or should go and will go, with our food supply. We’ve allowed the system to run amok and it’s ruining our society’s ability to deal with the consequences – health costs, business costs from absenteeism, fuel wastage and small plane crashes due to excessive weight, etc etc.

    The food systems have proven to us that they can’t self regulate. We accept that food safety regulations need to be imposed on industry re bacteria, food poisoning, sanitation. But the health impacts of all the junk food are far more serious — far more un-“safe” — than food outbreaks. We need TRUE food safety.

    Make the healthy choice the easy choice. Make risk taking more expensive and up to the individual, rather than “health taking” more expensive and up to the individual.

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  • Kathy Hayden

    This is all well and good that they are doing something but nothing will change until food companies stop making so much junk and putting too many varieties of junk food out there!! Seriously, do we need that many types of oreos?? It is just too enticing for too many people when they walk the grocery store aisles.

  • Cathy RD Excellent response! I may borrow that metaphor in the future!

  • Howie G

    @Cathy RD – but there are rules to how foods can be marketed. You can’t simply say a food is “healthy” if it doesn’t meet that definition created by the FDA. The problem is – there is no one food on the face of this earth than if eaten will cause an immediate death or disease. It’s not the food but how people eat the food. I eat junk food, I drink soda, I exercise and I primarily follow a plant based diet. Why should my decision to eat soda and junk food be taken away from me, taxed or regulated? My actions dictate my health. Yes, there is deceptive marketing practices that need to be reigned in. And, there is some shady research that food companies fund to figure out the addictive properties of our brains. These, too, need to be reigned in. But at the end of the day, it’s the individual’s choice of what they eat and how they move that will ultimately dictate their health. Olive oil is healthy – but if I eat (or drink) a gallon of olive oil every day, is that healthy? If I eat 50 bananas a day is that healthy? Where does it start and where does it end…

    Why does one’s insurance premiums go up after they have an accident or report a claim? Should we not have a similar system for all these unhealthy people causing all these economic and environmental woes? Maybe before buying a regular, sugary beverage people should step on a scale and be charged a surplus tax if they are overweight. Why should I have to change my food choices, or pay more or not have access to any junk food I want because others can’t control themselves. Lets put the onus on the corporations AND on the individual. Lets reign in food companies and make people more accountable for their actions.

  • Library Spinster

    Why is any effort to provide consumers with more information than a newsbite like “X is good for you” immediately decried as taking choices away or the government telling you what to eat? To be accountable for their actions, consumers need to know what “moderation” is. They need to know how much X is healthy and how much is too much.

    The food companies are adept at convincing consumers that a given product provides health benefits, even though the product in question doesn’t provide enough of a specific nutrient to make any difference. That their product can be “part of a good breakfast” (or lunch or dinner), instead of better options available in the same brick and mortar store.

    As far as condemning “all these unhealthy people”, people generally think they are healthy until they find out otherwise.

  • Cathy RD

    @Howie — why shouldn’t your soft drinks be taxed? If you have a good income, you have a choice to refuse to pay for the more expensive alternatives like bottle water, or milk.

    Why is gasoline taxed? User pay — those that use gas and the road infrastructures pay extra to maintain the systems. All taxpayers pay a bit, but if you use your own car instead of public transit then you pay extra. That’s how civilized societies maintain themselves.

    And your car insurance only goes up if you’re at fault. Yes, personal responsibility is part of driving well, and eating well, but we create with our tax dollars road systems and licensing systems that help to decrease the risk of accidents, so that when one occurs it really is more our fault than the system’s fault.

    With food, it’s the opposite, the system is more at fault than we are. Let’s use alcohol as an example. We limit access to alcohol because we know youth can’t choose it wisely. We limit who can sell alcohol, where it can be consumed, how it can be marketed, again because education and individual responsibility proved to be inadequate to prevent misuse. These limits are enforced with warnings, tickets, fines, closures of bars, even jail.

    But we have no similar limits for our food systems. It’s not just the label on the package. Think of it just like alcohol. The issues are virtually identical except for intoxication. Increasingly studies are showing that our food environment has a stronger influence on what we eat than our knowledge/will power can counteract.

    I could go on. I recommend looking at the reports on Yale Rudd Center for Obesity and Food Policy website for a better background in understanding why food should not be immune to regulation.

    Nothing else contributes to more “years of life lost” either through death or disability than food. Nothing.

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  • Yasemin

    Well, that’s silly. It’s not just up to us.
    3 months ago I cut out refined sugar from my diet, not to lose weight, but just to be healthier.
    A few weeks in I realized I hadn’t cut even half the sugar I used to consume.
    It’s hidden in the weight loss biscuits. It’s in the musli. It’s in some of the stuff you trust the most, and you can’t do a thing about it.
    Avoiding refined sugar becomes a near impossible task.
    Then you become aware of the other bad stuff – How are you supposed to drink natural milk and eat natural chicken when you’re in a metropolis? After a while, you can’t trust anything.

    America sets the food standards for the whole world now. I live in Turkey, but there’s so much influence over here. They just copy American products and resell them under Turkish names, really.
    To actually fix the problem, they need to regulate the amount of refined substances in our foods and slowly wean us off them. It’s not up to just us!