Why We Need to Redesign the Nutrition Label

Michael Pollan and Andrew Vande Moere weigh in on what's wrong with the current federal nutrition label—and how you should change it.

There’s still two weeks to send in your idea for our redesign the nutrition label challenge, a collaboration with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21. We also want to hear your ideas for improving the current nutrition label, which is both confusing and underutilized.

The entries will be judged by a talented team of writers, nutritionists, and designers including Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, Robert H. Lustig, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Andrew Vande Moere of Information Aesthetics, and Laura Brunow Miner of Pictory.

For those of you still looking for inspiration on how to solve the complex design and nutrition problem, Diana Jou, of News21, asked Michael Pollan and Andrew Vande Moere for their thoughts. Here's what Pollan had to say:

News21: What is wrong with the current nutrition label?

Michael Pollan: The focus on nutrients is probably inevitable but it distracts from the issue, which is whether you're getting real food or not. Fiber, for example, is a slippery category. There are different types, and so manufacturers can game the system by adding irrelevant inert materials to food. Soluble and insoluble are different and the fiber in grain or fruit, for example, is important possibly because of what accompanies it, so how do you capture that?

News21: How would you change the nutrition label to help consumers make healthier, more informed choices about the food they eat?

Pollan: This is your job, but think about how to capture degree of processing. Read Carlos Monteiro's stuff on this.

And here are Andrew Vande Moere's thoughts:

News21: What is wrong with the current nutrition label?

Andrew Vande Moere: Numbers, percentages, hard-to-understand nutrition terminology, difficult-to-compare proportions. People do not tend to choose what to buy or what to eat by interpreting mathematical values or comparing chemical compounds.

News21: How would you change the nutrition label to help consumers make healthier, more informed choices about the food they eat?

Vande Moere: I would propose to take the knowledge gathered from marketing, social psychology, economics, and visualization—in particular those that have investigated the value of attractive, compelling, persuasive labels, logos, branding and the presentation of products— and exploit this knowledge to better inform consumers in an informative as well as enjoyable way.

To read more about the project, including input from Laura Brunow Miner and Robert H. Lustig, check out News21's Rethink the Food Label.

And be sure to send us your designs here.

Julian Meehan

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