On paper, the Smart Choices package labeling initiative was a step in the right direction. Designed to help guide consumers to choose more nutritious food products, it reflected an industry driven solution to the nation’s overweight and obesity crisis.
The program began by highlighting the total number of calories per serving AND the number of servings per package right on the front of the label. This allowed consumers to immediately determine the caloric merits for each product. Unfortunately, the Smart Choices effort quickly derailed by trying to accomplish too much. In addition to communicating calorie and serving information, it complicated the matter by grading each item on its relative “healthfulness” according to interpretive nutritional criteria. Against all sensibility, items such as Fruit Loops and mayonnaise were bestowed the “Smart Choices” label, sending mothers and nutrition activists into a frenzy, resulting in an early death for the program and damage to the industry’s credibility.