Health hits the fan in the long hot summer

In July, FDA announced that by January 1, 2006, food labels will be required to list the amount of trans fat to give consumers better information when choosing what to eat. FDA expects the new labels to help reduce the costs of illness and disease by $900 million to $1.8 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity.

During the same time period, FDA released a final guidance document describing a process for evaluating and ranking the scientific evidence for a qualified health claim. The new system will categorize the quality and strength of evidence through an A, B, C, D grading system. The highest grade means that there is significant scientific agreement about the health claim. According to FDA, a current example of a “Grade A” is the claim relating calcium to reduced risk of osteoporosis.

At the beginning of July, the Harvard School of Public Health teamed up with an organization called TIAX to talk about the American diet. With FDA Commissioner McClellan as its keynote speaker, the forum’s challenge was to figure out how to make healthier diets more appealing to the American public. Over 100 industry representatives (including McDonald’s, Heinz, Campbell Soup Co., and Dole Food Co.), academia and government came to the following conclusions:

  • Both consumers and industry are confused by conflicting health messages.
  • Companies that make their money from food can’t be expected to take a leadership role in educating consumers on what to put in their bodies.
  • Government can’t step in until it has clear scientific data to support new health decisions.
  • Companies have introduced healthier foods, but consumers don’t buy them.
  • Consumers judge value as portion size, making a move toward smaller servings difficult.
  • In an industry with razor thin margins, slight increases in per serving costs can have dramatic implications.
  • The costs of obesity may cause higher health insurance premiums for everyone.
  • Reformulating foods to be lower in sugar, salt or trans fatty acids would require a shift in consumer habits that could take years.
  • With growing momentum to bring lawsuits against food manufacturers, the time to act is now.

Also last month, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky introduced a bill to protect the food industry from liability claims that food products are responsible for causing weight gain or obesity in consumers.

And they say July is a slow month? Not so for the food industry. All of these actions are a step in the right direction to keeping the food industry, as well as our nation, healthy.