Cover: Nutrition Standards for Away-From-Home Foods in the USA

Nutrition Standards for Away-From-Home Foods in the USA

Published in: Obesity Reviews, v. 13, no. 7, July 2012, p. 618-629

by Deborah Cohen, Rajiv Bhatia

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Research Questions

  1. What is the rationale for developing nutritional performance standards for foods consumed away-from-home?
  2. What performance standards could be regulated?

Abstract

Away-from-home foods are regulated with respect to the prevention of food-borne diseases and potential contaminants, but not for their contribution to dietary-related chronic diseases. Away-from-home foods have more calories, salt, sugar and fat, and include fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended by national nutrition guidelines. Thus, frequent consumption of away-from-home foods contributes to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In light of this, many localities are already adopting regulations or sponsoring programs to improve the quality of away-from-home foods. We review the rationale for developing nutritional performance standards for away-from-home foods in light of limited human capacity to regulate intake or physiologically compensate for a poor diet. We offer a set of model performance standards to be considered as a new area of environmental regulation. Models for voluntary implementation of consumer standards exist in the environmental domain and may be useful templates for implementation. Implementing such standards, whether voluntarily or via regulations, will require addressing a number of practical and ideological challenges. Politically, regulatory standards contradict the belief that adults should be able to navigate dietary risks in away-from-home settings unaided.

Key Findings

  • Away-from-home foods have more calories, salt, sugar and fat, and include fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended by national nutrition guidelines.
  • Frequently eating these foods contributes to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Recommendations

  • Provide meal options that provide 25-35 percent of daily nutrients recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
  • Offer portion sizes consistent with DGA recommendations.
  • Label all foods that do and do not conform to the DGA guidelines with appropriate symbols and icons.
  • Position information about the healthiest options on menus where customers would notice them first.
  • Price meals that meet nutritional performance standards no higher than the average of other meals offered in the same venue.

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