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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
ing (Mathios and Ippolito, 1999), although it is not possible to determine the role that health claims played in these positive outcomes. Evidence from the ready-to-eat cereal market indicates that allowing producers to use health claims resulted in more healthful product innovations and motivated competition based on healthful products (Mathios and Ippolito, 1999).
Thus, health claims may serve to stimulate industry to develop new products, or modify existing ones, that encourage positive changes in consumers’ eating habits. Food and beverage companies would benefit from being able to use simple and easily understood health claims in order to stimulate increased consumer selection of healthier food products, including their own.
New health claims may be added to products through a process whereby a food manufacturer notifies the FDA of its intent to use a health claim based on scientifically accurate and authoritative findings. No health claims currently exist for products that explicitly address preventing obesity. However, it will be essential to develop a standard nutrient claim or health claim definition for energy density and nutrient density. For example, by developing a health claim for food products that have an energy density below 1 calorie per gram, such foods might be considered supportive of maintaining a healthy body weight. However, this type of health claim could not apply to beverages.7 A disclosure statement may be needed to accompany a health claim if consumer research reveals that a health claim on a food label would imply that a food is healthful in all respects (e.g., it has a low energy density but may not be nutrient dense) if this is not the case.
The regulatory environment in the early 1980s discouraged food and beverage manufacturers and advertisers from using health claims, but this policy was eased in 1993 when the FDA’s health claim rules were revised (Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002). The FTC has recently encouraged the FDA to consider giving manufacturers greater flexibility in making truthful, nonmisleading nutrient claims for foods,8 allowing comparative claims9
As discussed in Chapter 3 and Appendix B, beverages (such as soft drinks and fruit drinks), due to their high water content, are generally not energy dense. However, the energy density of soft drinks is disproportionately high for its nutrient content when compared to other nutrient-dense beverages such as low-fat milk. Therefore, comparisons of beverages should involve considerations of nutrient density.
A nutrient content claim is an FDA-regulated statement on food packages that characterizes the level of a nutrient in a food such as “free,” “high,” “low,” “more,” and “reduced”. The NLEA (1990) allows the use of nutrient-content claims that describe the amount of a nutrient according to the FDA’s authorizing regulations (IOM, 2004).
Comparative claims are a subset of nutrient content claims. Under NLEA rules, comparative claims are required to meet a number of specific restrictions and disclose the comparison product, the percentage that a nutrient is reduced, and the actual amount of the nutrient for both the product and the comparison food (Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002).