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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
claim (IOM, 2004). An estimated 33.7 percent of products sold in 2000-2001 had nutrient content claims related to energy, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, sodium, or sugars (Legault et al., 2004).
A health claim6 on a product package states that a scientifically demonstrated relationship exists between a food substance, legally defined as a specific food or food component, and a disease or health-related condition (IOM, 2004). Health claims (as well as nutrient claims) must be authorized by the FDA prior to their use in food labeling; the agency carefully assesses wording so that the claimed health-related relationship does not imply causation (IOM, 2004).
The FDA has approved 14 different health claims that may be used on food packages that emphasize both risks and benefits such as the relationship between heart disease and saturated fat; cancer and fruits and vegetables; and coronary heart disease risk and fruits, vegetables, grains, and soluble fiber (IOM, 2004). Approximately 4.4 percent of products sold in 2000-2001 had a health claim on their food package. The product groups with the highest percentage of health claims were hot cereal, refrigerated and frozen beverages, seafood, snacks (granola bars and trail mixes), eggs and egg substitutes, and meat and meat substitutes (Legault et al., 2004). These products provided a claim about the relationship between a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease; high in soluble fiber and reduced risk of heart disease; and high in soy protein and reduced risk of heart disease (Legault et al., 2004).
Health claims advertising and labeling is product-specific so that the information imparted not only suggests a relationship between the food characteristics and health but also features a product that contains these characteristics (Mathios and Ippolito, 1999). Health claims, in conjunction with the Nutrition Facts panel, can help consumers make product-specific decisions and more informed food and beverage choices in the marketplace (Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002).
The question has been raised as to whether the policy changes that occurred in the mid-1980s, which allowed food manufacturers to explicitly link diet to disease risks in advertising and labeling, assisted or confused consumers in making more healthful food choices to improve their diet (Mathios and Ippolito, 1999). An analysis that examined market share data in the ready-to-eat cereal market, consumer knowledge data, individual nutrient intake data, and per capita consumption data found that U.S. consumers’ diets improved from 1985 to 1990 during the same time period that producers were permitted to use health claims in advertising and label-
A “qualified” health claim uses appropriate qualifying language to describe the level of scientific evidence that the claim is truthful. The FDA offers guidance, including a method for systematically evaluating the evidence, on the review process for developing qualified health claims (IOM, 2004).