Nutrition rating, labeling system proposed

A symbol, such as a check mark or a star, should be displayed on the front of every food item and beverage sold in grocery stores so harried shoppers can judge nutritional value at a glance, according to a government-sponsored report released Thursday.

In the report, a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine told federal regulators that the epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases warrants a single rating system to help consumers sort through nutritional information. The panel devised a labeling plan intended to be simple enough for kids to use. But it’s unclear what regulators will do.

The food and beverage industry, which launched its own labeling initiative this year, immediately resisted the plan, arguing that consumers do not want the government to interpret information for them. But the panel concluded the opposite. It cited the success of the Energy Star ratings for appliances and five-star safety ratings for cars.

“Simply providing information about healthy choices has not consistently translated into changes in dietary behavior,” said Ellen Wartella, head of the panel and a professor of communications, psychology and human development at Northwestern University.