Better food labels are smart for Americans

Nutrition labels on the food and beverages we consume should tell us the truth. So the Food and Drug Administration's proposal to make the first significant changes in the ubiquitous fact boxes in two decades is a welcome advance for an overweight nation.

The most important change is what the FDA calls a reality check on serving sizes. People eat larger portions of many foods than they did in the 1970s and 1980s, when the current serving sizes were determined.

If you drink a whole 20-ounce bottle of soda in one sitting rather than just eight ounces, then you're like most Americans. The same with ice cream. Most people eat a cup or more in a sitting rather than a half-cup. Serving sizes on the new labels would reflect that new reality. So when people dutifully check the label for calories and nutrients per serving, they'll more closely match how much they're actually consuming.

This is no nanny-state intrusion. FDA officials said the idea behind the changes it put out last week for public comment isn't to tell people what they should eat, but rather to expand and highlight the information most useful when making food choices.

The new labels also would put a greater emphasis on calories by presenting them in bigger, bolder type. For the first time the amount of sugar added during production would be listed. The calories from fat would no longer be included, but the total amount of fat and the amount of deleterious saturated and trans fats would be there for consumers to see.

Consumption-related conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease are high on the list of the nation's chronic health problems. Better information about nutrients and calories by itself won't change that unhealthy reality. But truth in labeling will help those people who want to make better choices.

—Newsday, March 5


Military belt-tightening and priority shifts seem appropriate

An analytical, apolitical, un-pork-barreled assessment of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's budget proposal may find that its emphasis on reducing troop strength and boosting technological advantages makes much sense in the new world of war.

But that's not exactly the reception the $496 billion plan got last week. Lawmakers on the right and left expressed concern.

Our region would indeed take an economic hit if Hagel's proposals to wind down the A-10 "Warthog" ground attack plane and to reduce the Army's ranks of soldiers by upward of 13 percent sailed through Congress unscathed. But don't count on that. And don't count on clear-eyed reason to prevail after President Barack Obama sends his 2015 budget to Congress.

Missouri's two senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, sit on the chamber's Armed Services Committee and both indicated they'd take a long look at a proposed National Guard cutback, for example. They also are united in an effort to save the A-10.

That, of course, provides them cover in advance of the active horse-trading that will prevail in the budget debates ahead. In the end, though, every cut or change in priority could very well lead to new investments benefiting states fearing whacks.

Whiteman Air Force Base, just down the road from Kansas City, stands to lose its two dozen A-10s. Cutting the outmoded "tank killer" - there are 326 in the fleet overall - would save $3.5 billion over five years, Hagel says. Though the A-10 has its vocal backers, the Air Force has been signaling its retirement for years and expects the plane's one-task abilities will be more than ably replaced by the forthcoming F-35 jet fighter, a costlier and controversial but more flexible piece of weaponry.

The defense budget's thematic shifts from ground war to special operations - let's not overdo it - and cyber security also make much good sense in this era of chilling digital chicanery and stealth warfare.

Russia's recent militarism will give some lawmakers pause as they consider the consequences of a force reduction. But what goes down almost certainly can be reversed in urgent times.

Military might need not always be measured by the number of troops or weapons at hand. The nation's security most surely also depends on significant technological advancement and forward-thinking smarts.

—The Kansas City Star, March 4