What does 'healthy' mean? FDA is taking a second look.

Fat content used to be a greater focus

FDA is reviewing its definition of "healthy," which could change how companies are allowed to market foods.

According to the Wall Street Journal, FDA first defined the term "healthy" in 1994, when fat consumption was health care professionals' main focus. At that time, FDA and nutritionists were not as concerned with foods' sugar content.

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Under current FDA rules, companies can market food products as "healthy" if they meet certain criteria regarding:

  • Beneficial nutrients;
  • Cholesterol;
  • Fat;
  • Saturated fat; and
  • Sodium.

Thresholds for those criteria vary by food category.

FDA's existing definition would allow some high-sugar foods, such as Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and low-fat Pop-Tarts, to be marketed as "healthy"—although the products are not currently marketed that way. In contrast, avocados cannot be marketed as "healthy" because they exceed the allowable fat threshold.

Writing a new definition

In response to calls from food companies and lawmakers to change the rules, FDA will solicit comments from food experts and the general public about how to redefine "healthy."

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FDA in a statement said, "[W]e believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term 'healthy.'" The agency cited evolving nutrition research and other food-labeling rule updates as reasons for the reevaluation.

According to the Journal, if FDA decides to move forward, the redefinition process could take several years. FDA would first have to propose changing its current rules, and its proposal would be subject to a public comment period. FDA then would have to issue a final rule and allow for an implementation period (Gasparro, Wall Street Journal, 5/10; AP/U.S. News & World Report, 5/10).

Is it time to redefine 'wellness,' too?

understanding the employee wellness spectrum

The term "wellness" includes a variety of approaches to employee health. Each approach has different aims and, most importantly, different expected returns. Learn the different approaches and get six steps to apply population health strategies to your workplace.


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