GDAs explained

The information on this page is historical. Food labels are changing and the term Guideline Daily Amount is being replaced by Reference Intake (RI). Read about the new nutrition labelling requirements.

Expert Working Groups, created by the panel on Dietary Reference Values (DRVs), set up in 1987 by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA)[1] set DRVs for energy, protein, fats, sugars, starches, non-polysaccharides (NPS), 13 vitamins, 15 minerals and considered 18 other minerals.

This Government report still stands today as the basis for dietary recommendations in the UK and is underpinned by objective, science-based evidence which has not been superseded.

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) started life in 1996 as Daily Guideline Intakes (DGI)man shopping for use by the UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF), now the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Initially they were set for fat, saturates (saturated fat), sodium, sugar and fibre in grams per day for men and women.

MAFF published a leaflet ‘Use your Label: Making Sense of Nutrition Information’[2] with the aim of helping customers interpret the nutritional labelling provided on pre-packed food labels. The leaflet provided benchmarks against which consumers could judge the amount of a nutrient a food contained; these were referred to as Daily Guideline Intakes (DGIs).

GDAs for labelling purposes

In 1998 a set of GDAs for labelling purposes were developed as a means of communicating the Government’s nutrient intake recommendations in a way that could then be used as part of the nutrition information on the back of food packs.

A collaboration of UK government, consumer organisations and the food industry, overseen by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), set values for calories, fat and saturates (saturated fat) for men and women[3] based on the recommendations of the 1991 COMA report[1].

Reducing obesity was one of the seven key priority areas for improving the health of the nation identified in the 2004 government white paper ‘Choosing Health’. One of the actions identified was a call for the provision of clearer food labelling.

The UK industry recognised the challenge of obesity and other health related issues with its own seven-point manifesto for helping to tackle these issues, which includes the provision of clearer nutrition labelling on food packs.

In 2005 the IGD, decided to review and extend the GDAs developed in 1998 and set up a new technical group composed of scientific experts and representatives from the food chain and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). The outcome of this review was a consistent back-of-pack GDA scheme for adult males and females and for children in four age groups. The recommendations were published as a technical document by IGD in 1996.

A separate IGD communications group investigated GDA formats and commissioned research on the preferred GDA scheme for back-of-pack. The results of the IGD discussions were published in a Best Practice Guidance document.

When IGD released its GDA values, many supermarkets started to show the GDAs for calories, sugars, fat, saturates (saturated fat) and salt on back of pack. Research by the IGD showed that by 2005 two thirds of individuals surveyed had seen the term GDA on food products. Over two thirds of individuals that had seen the term GDA correctly identified the meaning: a “guide to the amount of nutrients a person should be eating in a day”.

Consumers respond positively to front of pack GDA labels

In 2005 the largest UK retailer Tesco, began to explore options for nutritional signposting on the front of pack. This was quickly followed by several food manufacturers and other retailers.

Results, which compared sales of sandwich varieties before and after inclusion of GDA labels, showed that the sales of less healthy options decreased, whilst sales of healthier varieties increased[4].

The consumer had shown a positive reaction to the introduction of GDA labels by Tesco and this was further endorsed in a study in early 2006 which showed that 96% of respondents were in favour of food manufacturers moving to a consistent approach to food labelling and 87% found the manufacturers’ proposed GDA labelling format “clear and simple”[5].

The GDA Campaign

In 2006 Food and Drink Federation (FDF) took over the co-ordination of a campaign for the food manufacturers toVisual from the TV advertising campaign ensure consistency and develop messaging on how the front of pack GDAs could be used.

The Know What’s Going Inside You campaign was launched in January 2007 and focused on raising awareness on how front of pack GDAs could be used every day and to increase usage and understanding. The Campaign included TV advertising, a series of advertorials, the publication of educational tools as well as the launch of the What’s Inside Guide website.

Campaign TV advert – video

By April 2007 the number of companies using GDA labels more than doubled to 50Consumer leaflet image and the number of consumers who recognised them rose from 70% to 80%[6].

A full PR programme aimed at Health Care Professionals and consumers ran in parallel to the media activity. This included the production of two toolkits designed for healthy care professionals to use when helping people to understand GDAs, and how to use the GDA label.

GDA Labels Today

In May 2009, following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its scientific opinion on the labelling intake values as proposed in the draft Food Information Regulation. Significantly, the opinion backed the values currently used by the food industry. You can read the full EFSA scientific opinion on labelling in our research section.

FDF’s Health and Wellbeing Steering Group continues to work constructively with UK and European Government, regulators to drive forward the Health and Wellbeing Ambitions particularly in the area of front-of-pack nutrition labelling.

GDAs have recently been launched in South Africa by Kellogg’s and it is hoped that the scheme will be adopted soon by other manufacturers.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council are actively promoting GDAs to local manufacturers and have produced a leaflet to support companies wishing to implement the scheme.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition Working Group (SACN) on Energy Requirements created in 2005 is currently reviewing definitions and assumptions used by COMA (1991)[1] to agree energy requirements. The 11th meeting of this group was held on 30 January, at which a draft report was finalised.

FDF continues to promote the benefits and uses of nutrition labelling to Heathcare Professionals, and consumers.


Last reviewed: 28 Jan 2014