FDA to Redefine 'Healthy'

Proposed labeling updates to help reduce burden of chronic disease and advance health equity
Emily Crowe
Multimedia Editor
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The FDA is proposing a rule that would make "healthy" food products easier to identify.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking to help consumers improve their nutrition and dietary patterns with a proposal that would update criteria for when foods can be labeled as "healthy." The proposed rule would be in alignment with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Currently, more than 80% of U.S. consumers aren't eating enough vegetables, fruit and dairy, and most people consume too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. The proposal follows the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, and the release of a national strategy that would help end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, reduce diet-related diseases, and close disparity gaps over the next eight years.

"Nutrition is key to improving our nation's health," said Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. "Healthy food can lower our risk for 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."

According to the FDA, the rule would update the "healthy" claim definition to better account for how all the nutrients in various food groups contribute and work together to create healthy dietary patterns and improve health.

These foods would need to contain a certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups and also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, including saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. More foods that are part of a healthy dietary pattern and meet dietary guidelines, including nuts and seeds, certain oils and higher fat fish, could use the claim on their labeling.

"Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. "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 can also result in a healthier food supply."

The initiative behind the proposed new rules started back in 2015 when Kind Snacks filed its Citizen Petition. According to the company, the FDA not only listened, but also recognized Kind as the catalyst for the updated definition in the proposal. 

"Seven years after filing our Citizen Petition, KIND is celebrating that the FDA has proposed an updated regulatory definition of 'healthy,'" said Kind CEO Russell Stokes. "A rule that reflects current nutrition science and Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a win for public health – and that’s a win for all of us. We are proud to be the catalysts of this journey. We will always advocate for nutrition education and transparency and remain committed to making whole nutrition convenient and tasty."

A long list of grocers and food and beverage companies are also taking the reins on helping consumers make better choices about what they consume. FMI – The Food Industry Association has revealed commitments that the sector has made for 2023 and beyond to help find solutions to ending hunger, improving nutrition and reducing diet-related diseases across the country. Shipt, Instacart and Albertsons Cos. have also adopted initiatives to address the nationwide issue, and the National Grocers Association, the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, has released major industry commitments in the same vein.

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