FDA Proposes Updated Definition of ‘Healthy’ Claim on Food Packages to Help Improve Diet, Reduce Chronic Disease

The FDA recently proposed updated criteria for when foods can be labeled with the nutrient content claim “healthy” on their packaging. This proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label, and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

More than 80% of people in the United States aren’t eating enough vegetables, fruit, and dairy. And most people consume too much added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. The proposed rule is part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to helping consumers improve nutrition and dietary patterns to help reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity.

The proposed rule comes on the heels of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, as well as the release of the related national strategy, which aims to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, reduce diet-related diseases, and close disparity gaps by 2030.

“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” says Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Healthy food can lower our risk of 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.”

The proposed rule would update the “healthy” claim definition to better account for how all the nutrients in various food groups contribute and may work synergistically to create healthy dietary patterns and improve health. Under the proposed definition for the updated “healthy” claim, which is based on current nutrition science, more foods that are part of a healthy dietary pattern and recommended by the Dietary Guidelines would be eligible to use the claim on their labeling, including nuts and seeds, higher fat fish (such as salmon), certain oils, and water.

“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the US and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups,” says FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD. “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 also can result in a healthier food supply.”

Under the proposed definition, in order to be labeled with the “healthy” claim on food packaging, the products would need to do the following:

• contain a certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (eg, fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines; and

• adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the daily value (DV) for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group. The limit for sodium is 10% of the DV per serving (230 mg per serving).

For example, a cereal would need to contain 3/4 oz of whole grains and contain no more than 1 g of saturated fat, 230 mg of sodium, and 2.5 g of added sugars per serving.

“Healthy eating patterns are associated with improved health, yet most people’s eating patterns do not align with current dietary recommendations,” says Susan Mayne, PhD, director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “In addition to today’s action, we continue to advance a number of FDA initiatives and explore new ways to coordinate, leverage, and amplify important work going on across the nutrition ecosystem to help improve people’s diets and make a profound impact on the health of current and future generations.”

Along with empowering consumers, adopting the updated definition may help foster a healthier food supply if some manufacturers reformulate (eg, add more vegetables or whole grains to meet criteria) or develop products that meet the updated definition.

Because consumers have long been interested in finding ways to more easily identify healthy foods, the agency is also in the process of studying and exploring the development of a symbol manufacturers can use to show that their product meets the “healthy” claim criteria. The agency realizes that consumers are busy and, while shopping, may be seeking a quick way to identify and select healthy products. The updated “healthy” claim and potential symbol together would act as quick signals to help consumers identify healthier food choices more easily.

The FDA is participating in the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and will continue to take steps in support of the national strategy to improve nutrition and health and empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices. Specifically, the agency remains committed to continuing to create a healthier food supply through its recently released guidance to reduce sodium in processed, packaged, and prepared foods; to providing consumers with accessible nutrition information about the foods they eat; and to providing industry with recommendations on how to use dietary guidance statements on food labeling. Future planned actions include the following:

• developing a front-of-package labeling system to quickly and more easily communicate nutrition information to empower consumers to make healthy decisions;

• facilitating making nutrition information easily available when grocery shopping online;

• facilitating lowering the sodium content of food in the food supply, including by issuing revised, lower voluntary sodium reduction targets for industry;

• holding a public meeting regarding future steps the federal government could take to facilitate lowering added sugar consumption; and

• releasing additional education and outreach efforts to ensure that parents and caregivers are aware of the latest recommendations for healthy eating in young children and for taking steps to reduce exposure to toxic elements in food.

— Source: FDA