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Next time you read a nutrition label, pour one out for Burkey Belser.

Next time you read a nutrition label, pour one out for Burkey Belser.

Carbohydrates, proteins, sodium, and fats: if you know how to scan nutrition information on food and beverage packaging, you largely have Burkey Belser to thank. But his work extended far beyond grocery aisles.

The graphic designer died at the age of 76 in Bethesda, Maryland, on Monday, reportedly from bladder cancer.

If you've noticed that the "Drug Facts" box on over-the-counter medications seems to resemble a food label, it's because Belser also designed it. He also created the yellow EnergyGuide label for household appliances.

Throughout his long and prolific career, Belser became known for his ability to convey information in remarkably accessible forms.

Belser's work can be seen on billions of products. The Nutrition Facts panel was replicated worldwide. If it seems ubiquitous, Belser said, that should be taken as a good sign.

"When design works, it gives the impression that it has always been there," he told WAMU in 2013.

"What it really does is make you understand something very, very quickly without much thought. You process it at a glance. And that's really what we were doing in nutrition labeling," Belser said.

In fact, The New York Times once called it the most printed and viewed piece of literature and art in the world.

He's known to have done this work for free: when Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990, which mandated the creation of the new nutrition label, it didn't allocate funds for creating it.

The nutrition box first appeared on store shelves in 1994. Creating the official nutrition panel for food was a complex process involving input from business groups and health advocates as well as experts at the Food and Drug Administration.

Circular and bar graphs were ruled out, as were other illustrations and colors, as the design team worked through 35 iterations. When the finished product was released, it was deemed successful.

"I applaud the man who designed the Nutrition Facts label, which is on every food package being sold in the United States now," Italian designer Massimo Vignelli said in the American Institute of Graphic Arts journal Print in 1996. "It's a masterpiece of information architecture and a real victory of social responsibility."

Why the White House Wants to Put Nutrition Labels on Food Packaging POLITICS Why the White House Wants to Put Nutrition Labels on Food Packaging The label is also a reflection of Americans' changing relationship with food: when the U.S. first issued dietary guidelines, they were aimed at helping people get enough vitamins and minerals.

"Incidentally, the original label was mostly built around a deficit diet," Belser told NPR in 2014. But as the country entered a new era of obesity and related diseases, he said, "people need to learn how to take care of their diet."

That dynamic continues to play out in debates over the goals and effectiveness of the label.

The nutrition label underwent changes in 2014. "I often ask myself, does this label really work," Belser said in 2013. "This label is so complex that I doubt people can tell you what carbohydrates are in general."

In 2014, the FDA announced changes to the nutrition label, prompting Belser to tell Marketplace, "It's like my dog died and I got a new puppy that I like, but not as much as old Spot."

Belser was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. He studied English at Davidson College in North Carolina, where he also pursued studio art.

After graduating in 1969, he studied in France and traveled extensively before turning to graphic design in Washington, D.C. His firm specialized in marketing for legal services—a field that emerged when he entered it.

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