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Wal-Mart Creates Icon For Food Packages To Encourage Healthful Choices

We're all for smarter labels. And now Wal-Mart has introduced an easy way for shoppers to quickly identify more healthful foods with its new front-of-package "Great For You" icon.

With thousands of choices available, "choosing something healthy can be a daunting task," Kelly Cheeseman of Walmart Foundation tells The Salt. "And when you factor in price it can be even more confusing."

Now, when a shopper spots, say, a can of Wal-Mart-branded peaches with the icon, Cheeseman says he will know it's a good choice without having to interpret the details on the nutrition facts panel. (For now, the "Great For You" icon is only on select products in certain Wal-Mart lines.)

But the announcement makes The Salt wonder, can choosing healthful food really be reduced to a simple yes-no decision? After all, no one food is all good or all bad. It all depends on how much you eat and what else is on your plate.

And what happened to the initiative to create one universal front-of-package label to guide consumers on healthful choices that would appear on all packaged foods?

The Institute of Medicine has called for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop a single, standard Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating System that would show calories per serving on all products. It also recommended that foods and beverages be evaluated using a point system for sodium and added sugars.

It's not clear when the FDA will get the ball rolling, and so Wal-Mart and others have decided to act on their own. This is creating some crowding of nutrition rating systems on the shelves, with competing approaches such as Guiding Stars and The American Heart Association's Heart Check already out there.

Nutrition experts are also not convinced that Wal-Mart got it right on some of its "Great-For-You" choices. The Center for Science in the Public Interest questions the inclusion of cholesterol-rich eggs, salty canned vegetables and apple juice, which can be the source of a lot of calories.

Still, others see the unveiling of the new food seal as another step toward "making the healthy choice the easy choice for parents and families," says Larry Soler of the Partnership for a Healthier America. The "Great for You" initiative is part of Wal-Mart's commitments to the PHA, as well as a pledge to reformulate thousands of packaged food items by 2015 to reduce sodium by 25 percent and sugars by 10 percent.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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