AMA meeting: Fight obesity by adopting nutritional rating system
■ Delegates also agree that healthy foods should be more affordable and that food labels need greater accuracy.
By Christine S. Moyer — Posted June 28, 2010
Chicago -- The American Medical Association is boosting its efforts to reduce obesity by tackling the price disparity between nutritious and unhealthy foods, and addressing inaccuracies on nutritional labels.
The AMA House of Delegates approved several nutrition-related policies, including one that urges the Food and Drug Administration to use more precise processes to measure fat content in foods. Delegates at the Annual Meeting in June also called on the FDA to include the most accurate nutritional information on food labels.
FDA nutrition labeling requirements allow trans fat or saturated fat content to be reported as zero if the food product contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. That means someone eating a product labeled "trans fat-free" could be consuming as much as 20% to 25% of his or her recommended daily allowance of trans fat, said Ryan Ribeira, regional medical student alternate delegate. The American Heart Assn. recommends limiting trans fat intake to less than 1% of total daily calories.
Citing a price gap between nutritious foods and calorie-dense, nutrition-poor products, delegates also adopted policy that supports efforts to lessen the cost disparity. The policy calls on the AMA to encourage the expansion of existing programs that aim to improve nutrition and reduce obesity.
But even when individuals can afford healthy food, delegates noted, it is not always clear what products are the most nutritious. To help consumers make better food choices, delegates asked the AMA to support implementation of a uniform nutritional rating system in the U.S. The system should be evidence-based, developed without food industry influence, applicable to nearly all foods and easily understood by consumers. It should also permit relative comparisons of different foods.
"We know we have a significant obesity epidemic. ... If people eat healthier food that will reduce [the problem] ... but they can't understand existing labels on food," said Robert Gilchick, MD, MPH, of Los Angeles, a delegate of the American College of Preventive Medicine.
The house action came as the Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Health and Human Services issued preliminary recommendations June 15 in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. The report said a disconnect exists between dietary recommendations and what Americans consume. Americans eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains and sodium, it said.
The guidelines recommend that people reduce calorie consumption, increase physical activity and shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet, while eating only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.
The guidelines, updated every five years, will be released at the end of the year.