The Demise of the Smart Choices Program – A Violation of the KISS Principle

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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.

I am all for food corporations leading the charge to solve obesity, but if we really want to help reduce the excess pounds carried by Americans, we must focus on doing one thing well: lowering the number of calories. If the Smart Choices initiative had stuck to simply posting calorie counts on packaging, it would have gone a long way to educating consumers about how much a single product can affect their weight. 

Why focus only on calories? Because calories are the #1 culprit leading to our nation’s overweight and obesity epidemic. Over the past 50 years, the number of calories available for consumption has increased by 29 percent per person. In today’s confusing world with so many messages being thrown at us, simplicity is the key to addressing our obesity epidemic.  Fortunately, a simple approach – reducing our caloric intake – can, in fact, solve obesity in America.  If we apply a “put a man on the moon” kind of zeal to lowering our calorie intake, it will go a long way toward taking off the pounds and reducing the risks for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

And, by the way, as the calories go down, a funny thing happens on the way to the fat forum: sugars, fats, etc. will concurrently come down automatically. By avoiding the constant press by nutrition activists to deliver the Perfect Food, we will reduce the rampant confusion prevalent among consumers regarding the nutritional merits of various fats, sugars, salt, etc.

If we are really serious about lowering our overweight and obese condition, it’s time to change our mindsets about over-communicating and over-confusing the issue.  My advice is – let’s KISS our excess pounds goodbye.  How? Keep it Simple, Stupid. Just post the calories and focus on reducing the total number of calories we eat as a nation.  The pounds will come off and we can become a healthier America.

8 Responses to “The Demise of the Smart Choices Program – A Violation of the KISS Principle”

  1. You had me on the ‘where it went wrong’ but I’m not sure ‘calories alone’ translates to consumers effectively, as there’s plenty of lo-cal &/or empty calorie crud that has little to do w/nutrition whatsoever.
    You’re right that the ‘seals’ concept became a marketing mess and tower of babel w/every cereal co. and junk food spinmeister tanking any remote form of credibility that could’ve been mustered with an easier ‘at a glance’ format…but I’m a strong advocate for ONE, simple, easy to use system of standards across the board that is NOT self-awarded.
    Here’s a piece I wrote about label lingo and trying to make sense of ‘better for you’ branding on Shaping Youth: http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=188
    Thoughts? Thx for the outreach, glad I found your site; you offer an insider’s perspective I find refreshingly valuable! 🙂

  2. I’m with Amy. I don’t think that calories alone will help you lose weight and become healthier. Especially since, for most Americans, counting calories is enough stress as it is!
    Moderate eating is always a plus. Knowing which foods are high in calories as well as their low calorie, higher health value counterparts are just as important. Awareness is better than math, in my book! 😀
    Either way, thanks for your blog and your great input. I’m going to read your book very soon.
    Bless!

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