Labeling Rules for Young Children's Food

By Kurtzweil, Paula | FDA Consumer, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Labeling Rules for Young Children's Food


Kurtzweil, Paula, FDA Consumer


How much fat should we eat to stay healthy? For adults, the answer is clear: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans tell us to restrict fat to no more than 30 percent of our total calorie intake.

But for infants and toddlers, the answer is less straightforward; the Dietary Guidelines don't apply to children under 2. In fact, health experts advise against restricting fat in young children's diets because they need the calories and nutrients fat provides to grow and develop properly.

For this reason, FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service have established special rules to govern the labeling of foods for children under 4. (USDA regulates labeling of meat and poultry products. FDA oversees labeling of all other foods.)

Just as for other foods, the regulations require labels for foods for young children to include information about nutrients important to health - for example, fat, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This is to help parents choose foods that contain the appropriate kinds and amounts of nutrients their children need.

But the new regulations forbid labels for foods for children under 2 to carry certain nutrition information because the presence of the information may lead parents to wrongly assume that certain nutrients should be restricted in young children's diets, when, in fact, they should not.

In addition, the labels for foods for children under 4 cannot show how the amounts of some nutrients correspond to Daily Values - recommended daily intakes. The reason is because Daily Values for some nutrients, such as fat, fiber and sodium, have not been established for children under 4. This is because current dietary recommendations do not specify appropriate levels for young children. FDA has set Daily Values only for vitamins, minerals and protein for this age group because the National Academy of Sciences has established appropriate levels of these nutrients for this age group in the Recommended Dietary Allowances. FDA incorporated those recommendations in the Daily Values. (See "`Daily Values' Encourage Healthy Diet" in the May 1993 FDA Consumer.)

Up-to-Date Label

These labeling requirements stem from the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which, among other things, requires labels of most foods - including those for children under 4 - to carry nutrition information.

The children's nutrition labeling rules apply to most foods whose labels suggest that the food is intended for infants and toddlers. This includes infant cereals, infant strained meats, vegetables and fruits, "junior" foods, teething biscuits, and infant and "junior" juices. The regulations do not apply to infant formula, which has special nutrition labeling requirements.

Many foods for infants and toddlers have carried some nutrition information since at least the 1970s, when voluntary nutrition labeling went into effect. But now, for many such foods, the information is required and more pertinent to today's health concerns. (See "Good Reading for Good Eating" in the May 1993 FDA Consumer.)

Importance of Fat

Concerns about excessive fat and cholesterol intake for most of the population don't apply to children under 2, however. Fat is one of six nutrient categories essential for proper growth and development. (The others are protein, carbohydrate, water, vitamins, and minerals.) At no other age does fat play such an important role as in infancy and early childhood, a period of rapid growth and development. Dietary fat serves as:

* a source of energy (infants and toddlers have the highest energy needs per kilogram of weight of any age group)

* a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and as an aid in their absorption in the intestine

* the only source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid.

Fat also gives taste, consistency, stability, and palatability to foods and converts to body fat, which is necessary to hold organs in place, absorb shock, and insulate the body from temperature changes. …

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