If an increasingly overweight America's eyes are bigger than its stomach, then placing more nutritional information in plain sight could allow shoppers to see their way to more healthy choices while scanning food labels.
That's an idea being considered by the Food and Drug Administration as it examines whether symbols added to the front of food packages could convey nutrition information in a clear and concise way — without forcing shoppers to pore over the small print usually relegated to the back of the box, bag or can.
The agency opens a two-day hearing Monday to collect comments from food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and their overseas counterparts on the topic. Any action is likely years away.
Some food manufacturers and retailers already have begun labeling foods with symbols to indicate how nutritious they are. PepsiCo uses the "Smart Spot" symbol on diet Pepsi, baked Lay's chips and other products. Hannaford Bros., a New England supermarket chain, uses a zero to three-star system to rate more than 25,000 food items it sells. And in Britain, the government has persuaded some food companies to use a "traffic light" symbol. That ranking system relies on green, yellow and red lights to characterize whether a food is low, medium or high in fat, salt and sugar.
There is little consistency among the competing symbol regimes, since they can rely on differing criteria and requirements for eligibility, according to the FDA. The agency seeks information on how shoppers respond to the symbols, whether they eat better as a result and how use of the symbols affects sales.