Public Health Nutrition

Public policies

Banning front-of-package food labels: First Amendment constraints on public health policy

Timothy D Lyttona1 c1

a1 Albert & Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School, Albany, NY, USA


In recent months, the FDA has begun a crackdown on misleading nutrition and health claims on the front of food packages by issuing warning letters to manufacturers and promising to develop stricter regulatory standards. Leading nutrition policy experts Marion Nestle and David Ludwig have called for an even tougher approach: a ban on all nutrition and health claims on the front of food packages. Nestle and Ludwig argue that most of these claims are scientifically unsound and misleading to consumers and that eliminating them would ‘aid educational efforts to encourage the public to eat whole or minimally processed foods and to read the ingredients list on processed foods’. Nestle and Ludwig are right to raise concerns about consumer protection and public health when it comes to front-of-package food labels, but an outright ban on front-of-package nutrition and health claims would violate the First Amendment. As nutrition policy experts develop efforts to regulate front-of-package nutrition and health claims, they should be mindful of First Amendment constraints on government regulation of commercial speech.

(Received April 29 2010)

(Accepted August 18 2010)

(Online publication November 17 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email