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FDA proposes to expand criteria for ‘healthy’ claim on food packages

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FDA has proposed making more foods eligible for the “healthy” claim on their packaging, including nuts and seeds, higher fat fish, such as salmon, and certain oils and water.

In an initiative that it said reflected current nutrition science, FDA on Wednesday proposed updated criteria for foods that can be labeled with the nutrient content claim “healthy.”

The announcement was made on the same day the Biden administration hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

The proposed rule would be consistent with modern nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, FDA said. The agency has proposed making more foods eligible for the “healthy” claim on their packaging, including nuts and seeds, higher fat fish, such as salmon, and certain oils and water.

More than 80% of people in the U.S. aren’t consuming adequate dairy, fruit and vegetables, and most people consume too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, according to FDA.

“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in FDA’s news release. “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.”

To be labeled with the “healthy” claim on food packaging, FDA proposed requiring the products to contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The products also would need to meet specific limits for certain nutrients, such as added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, FDA said.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods and oils are the core foods that comprise a healthy dietary pattern.

FDA suggested manufacturers who add more vegetables or otherwise reformulate their products to meet the updated definition of healthy could help promote a healthier food supply.

“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., said. “Today’s action is an important step toward accomplishing a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early. It can also result in a healthier food supply.” 

FDA made the announcement the same day that the Biden administration held for the first time in over half a century the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. In conjunction with the conference, the White House announced a national strategy that included five pillars:

- Improving food access and affordability.

- Integrating nutrition and health.

- Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices.

- Supporting physical activity for all.

- Enhancing nutrition and food security research.

The Consumer Brands Association (Consumer Brands), whose members include food manufacturers, issued a statement on the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

“We support the inclusion of efforts to provide sufficient funding for FDA’s nutrition and labeling work, expand access to feeding programs through technology, prioritize incentive programs to increase access to healthy foods and facilitate consumer transparency standards through ecommerce platforms,” the trade group said.

“As the administration proceeds, we urge against implementing policies that may inadvertently hurt consumers, especially in the volatile economic environment that has caused a spike in the cost to manufacture grocery products,” Consumer Brands added. “Focusing on incentive-based and voluntary initiatives, such as voluntary, interpretive front-of-pack labeling schemes that are fully backed by extensive research, has the potential to positively affect our shared hunger, nutrition and health policy goals. We look forward to continued collaboration on solutions that prioritize consumer needs in the fight for a healthier America.”

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