How to Help Americans Eat Less Junk Food (NYT)

With some 60 percent of the American diet coming from processed foods — foods that have been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers in the United States — it’s time for our government to update our labels with warnings, too.

Chile and many other countries with front-of-package labels have a constitutional right to health. This helps give authorities the ability not just to require warning labels but also to ban certain health claims and codify advertising restrictions. (Mexico’s Supreme Court recently upheld its front-of-package labeling regulations in part because of the right to health.)

After Chile adopted several regulations in 2016 that included advertising restrictions on unhealthy food, a ban on junk food and beverages in schools and warning labels, researchers found that the consumption of drinks high in things like sugar and sodium declined by nearly 25 percent.

Researchers have also observed that warning labels led to reductions of sugar, sodium and saturated fat in the food supply. In Uruguay a survey published in 2020 assessing the early effects of nutritional warnings found that 58 percent of participants who noticed the warning changed their decision about buying a product. Of those who changed their decision, 17 percent said they opted for a similar product with fewer warnings, and 18 percent decided not to buy a similar product at all.


NYC lost the Bloomberg-era effort to ban jumbo sodas as I’ve mentioned before.

They did persist and win the effort to calorie-label chain menu options (first attempt was overturned by a federal judge).

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In the UK, large catering businesses (those with over 250 employees) are required to display a calorie count against each menu item.

Now, truth be told, it doesnt generally have a major impact on my personal menu choices, but it does mean I am making a better informed choice. This has only been the law since 2022 so it’s too soon to know what the wider impact will be.

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Something similar won’t happen in the US as everybody is afraid that the “government” is “interfering too much”. They all want to have the right to have diabetes and obesity whenever they want

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I’m an obese Type 2 diabetic. I find it helpful to have the food packaging labels detailing the sugar content, for example. The dietary advice is to keep below 10% sugar content on, say, cereals and the concise packet labelling makes it an easy poick which muesli I should be buying - invariably the low cost “budget” product. So a double win - healthy and cheap too.


Completely agree but here in the US that us often only seen as “overstepping” from the government even though it would help many people

I’m a bit confused. I can’t remember a time when US food packaging didn’t have nutritional labels. And providing calorie counts on menus has been law since 2018 for any restaurant with 20+ locations (i.e., all fast food and most chains) and it seems to me most places, even those with fewer than 20 locations, now include calorie counts (as well as indicators such as “heart healthy”).

There are those information but they are on the back of the back of the package so it is harder to see, calories are done in % (and it is always surprising how bad people are in math) - the food industry in the US is trying to make it as difficult as possible for consumers to get valuable information. In other countries there are actual “traffic light systems” well visible on the package clearly showing the nutritional value of the product. e.g. even somebody who can’t read or math easily understand it


Regardless of how one feels about labels, and what those labels should or should not contain, one has to presume Americans know how, and want, to read.

Those are pretty big assumptions. Unfortunately.


We keep having discussions here that the UK should move to the traffic light system. Seems to me such a good idea that I’m hopeful we’ll get there eventually.

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Interesting. I read in the article and some related ones that the black octagons were shown to have better impact.

Also that the front labels did change buying behavior, but there weren’t meaningful results in obesity numbers. Though that looked at only two years of data (till 2019) after the changes, and one would imagine you’d want to follow this kind of thing for a lot longer.

I mentioned the Nutri-Score system here.

I think it’s a great system. Whether it works remains to be seen. The horrifyingly graphic photos of smoking-related diseases on every pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products seem to have had zero impact, AFAICT.

Love it when Germans go on about organic this & organic that… while lighting one cig after the other :joy:

Oh, self-awareness, where art thou?


But that took a good long fight. Iirc the legislation failed in New York, then went back with a higher location count (argument iirc was that it was an undue burden on “family run” restaurants, but at how many locations have you transitioned away from mom & pop…)

I don’t think this is usually by choice, rather by law.

Yep, like most things it took a court battle to accomplish. I was merely responding to @honkman 's assertion:

I also agree it doesn’t have much effect. There are areas of Philadelphia that have no grocery stores but plenty of fast food, pizza and Chinese and people will eat what’s convenient (although no longer as cheap as before) regardless of nutritional value. Just as there will always be people who want that cheesesteak or hoagie regardless.

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Sheepishly raises hand :raised_hand:

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But the US doesn’t do that — just a little summary of what might happen. The pics are pretty disgusting. Plus menthols are illegal in the EU, which saved me from having a few too many the 3 nights I was around smokers :wink:

Agreed on the US cig warnings, although I’ve had some cartons brought to me from airport duty free shops. (Did I mention I’m surrounded by enablers?) You’re right. those photos are disturbing; but not so much as to deter me :slightly_frowning_face:

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Yes, as with all of these issues there are so many interconnected things like the food desert problem, who pays for healthcare for the end results, and so on. Just a mess. But they have to start somewhere.


A thousand times yes to starting somewhere.

Some portion of the population would welcome a front-of-package labeling system in the U.S. so that we can easily make better choices in packaged foods. I think we deserve the transparency just as much as folks in other countries that already require such a labeling system (not holding my breath that we’ll get it here though).

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It’s hardly confined to food nutritional facts. The Supreme Court very recently limited the power of regulatory agencies.

For some hard-core Americans, regulations of any kind are bad, bad, bad, except when they curtail reproductive rights, education (libraries and what can be taught), voting rights (drawing of congressional districts), immigrant rights, transgender rights, gay marriage, etc. Those are all good. Regulation of health care, guns, environmental issues, educational access, etc. all bad.

Some years ago there was a famous TV ad running showing over 65 year olds in southern states grumpily stating, “I don’t what the horrible government interfering with my Medicare.” The level of brainwashing and ignorance is so astounding that these people don’t know or refuse to believe that it is the federal government that provides Medicare. It’s only gotten worse since then.