As a variety of studies show, Americans are becoming more healthy because they are paying more attention to the nutritional content of the food they eat.

So Washington deserves high marks for the good intentions behind its latest effort to require meat and poultry to carry labels showing calories, nutrition, and fat content.But is this effort really worth more than $50 million to consumers?

That price tag on the latest food labeling plan would be money well spent if it really enabled consumers to cut down on cholesterol, fat, salt, and excess sugar in their diets.

But there's room for wondering how helpful the proposed new labels on meat and poultry will be unless they are more understandable than present labels on various other food products.

Look at the label listing the ingredients of a typical package of food and what do you see? For one thing, terms like "hydrogenated" or "hydrolized" that mean little to the ordinary person. For another thing, you'll see measurements in grams and milligrams, which mean little to consumers accustomed to cookbook measurements by the teaspoon and tablespoon.

Likewise, how big is a serving? Though the label may specify something like eight ounces, how many consumers are that precise when pouring their cereal into a bowl or placing a lamb chop in the frying pan?

By pushing for mandatory nutrition labels on all processed meat and poultry plus optional labels on fresh meat, Washington is simply trying to extend a labeling requirement that now applies to only about 50 percent of all such products.

But the job of helping consumers won't be complete until the nutrition labels are written in terms that don't require a college degree in chemistry to decipher.