Date Published: 27 June 2018

FDA takes steps to advance health through improvements in nutrition

It is widely accepted that eating sensible quantities and proportions of different types of good quality foods has a positive effect on overall health and well being. This is the subject of an initiative by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to advance health through improvements in nutrition via the FDA's Nutrition Innovation Strategy.

In a recent statement1 on the agency's website, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. summarized the importance of giving day-to-day attention to decisions about eating and drinking:

" When we think about advancing health and reducing the death and disability caused by disease, we often think about our investments in new technology and developing the next breakthrough drug. But the cumulative effect of making smart decisions every day about our diets, when spread over a population, can dwarf the impact of any single new medical product."

He went on to state that the FDA will implement new measures to ensure that American consumers are informed about the health attributes of foods and that it will also support manufacturers' abilities to develop options that provide more opportunities for healthy eating. The actions involved follow on from the FDA's announcement (March 2018) of a new multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy2 whose purpose is to ensure that consumers have access to information about nutrition that is meaningful and easy to understand and use to make purchasing and dietary decisions. Implementation of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy will continue on from previous initiatives such as the updated Nutrition Facts Label.

As part of these efforts the FDA will hold a public meeting involving nutrition experts, consumers and other stakeholders on 26 July. Much of this meeting will focus on the following three subjects:

  1. How best to modernize how claims are made on food packaging (i.e. labels), such as reviewing the FDA definition of the word 'healthy' as used on food labels
  2. How to modernize ingredient labels, e.g. how the FDA might simplify the terminology used in ingredient lists such as perhaps favouring the expression 'vitamin B6' rather than pyridoxine and 'vitamin B12' rather than cyanocobalamin.
  3. How to update standards of identity, i.e. standards that mandate the ingredients for certain foods such as when the word 'yoghurt' is appropriate or not, given recent innovations in this food category. Another aspect of this subject is the question of whether or not some consumers are misled by certain products being described or labelled as, for example, 'milk' or 'rice' when made from ingredients that don't reflect the traditional assumptions about how products labeled that way are derived - such as 'soya milk' and 'almond milk' derived from 100% plant materials wheras in the past the word 'milk' has been used to refer to a liquid extracted from live animals such as cows, goats or sheep.

In respect of the 3rd item, the FDA stated1 that:

" ... For example, we need to more closely examine whether certain almond- or soy-derived products should be able to call themselves milk."

The general public will also be invited to provide information and opinions via a docket that the FDA will open to accept input from consumers.

Another significant part of the FDA's overall efforts is to review and improve the Nutrition Facts label for modern consumers. As part of that activity it will implement a thorough educational campaign to help people to use the new version of the Nutrition Facts label and to correctly interpret the overall nutritional content of products available on the shelves in supermarkets and other food outlets. This educational campaign is expected to include videos, social media campaigns and websites. It will also involve seeking consumer feedback about effective ways to help people to learn more about the relationship between their dietary choices and the impact it can have on their health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

It is obvious that much effort is being expended to review and improve food product labelling in the USA. The context of this work was clarified in the recent statement on the FDA website1.

" Leveraging nutrition as a way to advance public health remains one of my top priorities as Commissioner. All of these efforts represent the broad range of work the FDA is currently conducting to create a safe and healthier food supply for American families, and to help consumers make more informed choices."

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA Commissioner, 26 June 2018.

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