​New report recommends that FDA make food health claims a priority

​New report recommends that FDA make food health claims a priority

Some discomfiting news a mere 48 hours after most Americans have consumed what is probably their most fattening meal of the year. I know it was for me: beef tenderloin, potato casserole with cheese, tiny butter-laden biscuits, two desserts. We even managed to make the brussel sprouts unhealthy by putting bacon in them. In my defense, this is not the way I usually eat. Far from it. But for too many Americans, it is uncomfortably close to the sodium, fat and sugar content of a meal regularly consumed.

A recent FDA report cites some alarming statistics about the health of Americans, or, perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof. The report was commissioned by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in recognition of the many health problems with nutritional causes.

About 17 percent (400,000) of deaths in the US in 200 were linked to poor diet and physical inactivity, which is linked to major causes of illness and death.37 percent of adults have cardiovascular disease, 34 percent have hypertension, 11 percent have diabetes, and more than two-thirds are overweight or obese. About one-third of children are overweight or obese.

Dietary changes can have a big impact on disease rates and health care costs.Researches cited in the FDA report estimate that a reduction in sodium intake daily by 1,200 mg could reduce new cases of coronary heart disease, stroke and myocardial infarction by upwards of 100,000 and save $10 billion to $24 billion per year in health care costs annually. About 9 percent of annual medical expenditures results from obesity and a 5 percent reduction in obesity rates could mean a decline of almost $30 billion in 5 years.

Nutrition-related mortality and morbidity far exceeds mortality and morbidity associated with food contamination, which has historically been the primary focus of FDA's food program.The report suggests additional efforts should be directed to "nutrition and nutrition-related activities," including "all activities intended to support growth, maintain health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and other nutrition-related problems through a nutritionally healthy food supply and diet."

As is true with the dietary supplement industry, the food industry capitalizes on American's desire for a healthier diet and weight loss, a desire that appears to exist more as a laudable goal rather than an actual plan for achieving same.The industry's strategy includes food marketing based on dubious health claims aimed at these desires.

A high priority will be placed on "a growing and sometimes egregious problem" with food products "making unsubstantiated therapeutic drug-type claims" through "labeling themselves as 'medical foods.'" The report notes that health-related claims have "a great potential to influence consumer choices toward healthy products" but, because they are unregulated, there is a potential to mislead consumers.  "Bio-active food components," such as probiotics and added fibers, are also a target. The FDA wants to take a closer look at the validity of their labeling claims as well, including structure/function claims.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the dietary supplement industry that, of all types of food claims, most of the unsubstantiated claims appear to be "structure/function" claims, which the FDA thinks have a "great potential" to mislead consumers."Structure/function" is a term invented by the dietary supplement industry and made a part of DSHEA by Congress. The FDA wants to develop a regulatory structure to ensure that such claims are truth and not misleading, a goal it thinks "could be challenging but potentially of great value to consumers."

Given its lack of success in regulating dietary supplement claims, "challenging" is an understatement. Of course, when Congress has gifted the supplement industry with the right to market products with no pre-market regulation requiring proof of such claims, there is little the FDA can do. 

The Difference Between Reporting and Realty.
Clever Hans Redux. Sort of.