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Food Fear: Will Warning Labels do More Harm than Good?

Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

Over recent weeks and months, there has been chatter about placing warning labels on sugary beverages in an effort to improve the health of Americans. Food activists are claiming that warning labels on products such as soda will help consumers make healthier choices and reduce incidences of obesity. Really? It’s highly debatable whether a warning label will deter soda sales, but I am quite certain that a warning label on groceries will not improve the health of Americans.

Ideas like the proposed warning labels emphasize to me how illiterate many food activists are about human behavior and what people across the country actually eat. Encouraging people to embrace a healthy lifestyle will take more than singling out and discouraging a single calorie source; and it’s not something that will happen overnight or with excessive red tape. People are more successful at behavior change when they have access to appropriate guidance, education, and long-term support.

Obesity prevention isn’t about telling people what to eat either. It’s about helping people learn how to engage in a balanced lifestyle (and truly value it) - which includes finding ways to be more physically active, managing stress, as well as learning how to choose options from each food group in a balance way.  In other words: helping people figure out how to balance their activity with their diet that provides a variety of foods that they can enjoy, in moderate amounts.

So how would a simple warning label on soda teach consumers what to place in their grocery cart and how to reduce stress or fit in exercise?

Don’t underestimate the consumer -- they understand that treats can be enjoyed in moderation and that all calories count.

In addition to being the mother of 3 sons, Rosanne has nearly 30 years of experience in the food and nutrition field. She is the coauthor of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies®, which all share her philosophy of balancing healthy eating with exercise and an enjoyment of life's little pleasures. Check out her blog, Chew The Facts, for more on this topic.

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