Monday, October 31, 2005

Consumers confused about health claims

A new FDA report says consumers are confused about the "health claims" made on food labels. FDA's been trying to balance "free speech" for food manufacturers against the problems of misleading advertising. Health claims used to be based on "significant scientific agreement." The courts have held this unfairly restricts free speech. For salt, the only approved health claim is for "sodium and hypertension." FDA's proposal of "qualified health claims" is designed to meet this judicial mandate, but this new report shows FDA still has work to do. For salt, the health claim that I think most justified is "eat salt or die" or something along that line but less dramatic. Salt is a necessary nutrient. All but one of the studies of health outcomes of salt intake -- studies that relate health outcomes like heart attacks or deaths to the amount of salt people eat -- have confirmed that low-salt diets either don't deliver any health benefits or are actually more risky. See http://www.saltinstitute.org/28.html. Unsurprisingly, the public is confused about health claims on food labels. Unfortunately, this will likely lead consumers to devalue nutrition/health advice on food labels much as they currently dismiss the 42 nutrition/health messages in the Dietary Guidelines.

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