U.S. FDA Re-assesses ‘Healthy’ Label

The agency is considering whether chewing gum, pizza bagels and bottled water, among other foods and beverages, could have a ‘healthy’ designation.

November 01, 2018

WASHINGTON – What do bottled water, chewing gum and pizza bagels have in common? They soon could share a “healthy” designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Associated Press/NBC News reports. The agency is in the process of updating its healthy definition in light of modern nutrition science. “The problem is that healthy is relative,” said Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University, noting that eating only green beans wouldn’t be considered healthy.

The process has brought out lobbyists from all corners, including advocacy and healthcare groups, and food and beverage makers. For example, chewing gum and bottled water companies point out that they should be able to claim a “healthy” label for their products, even though the products are nutrient-free. Frozen food manufacturers want separate regulations for “mini meals,” such as dumplings and small pizza bagels.

In 1994, the FDA established rules for using “healthy” on labels, and also limited total cholesterol and fat in those foods. This definition was based on old nutrition research and needs updating, according to Susan Mayne, head of the agency’s food labeling division.

The redo comes from a 2015 incident when the FDA said Kind couldn’t use the term to advertise its snack bars because of a high fat content. Kind countered that the since the fat came from nuts, its bars should be considered healthy, given that nutrition research has found that “good fats” such as those from nuts are actually good for you.

In 2016, the agency invited public comments about redefining healthy, receiving more than a thousand comments. Now, the FDA will propose a new definition, then entertain another round of public comments. The agency hasn’t indicated a timeline for releasing a new definition.