The FDA is planning a consumer study to find out whether fortifying snack foods with vitamins or other healthy ingredients and shouting about it on pack could lead shoppers to believe that a diet of nutrient-enriched junk food is nutritionally viable.
Results of the study (click here ) - a 15-minute online questionnaire with 7,500 adults - “will be used primarily to inform the Agency's understanding of how claims on the packages of fortified food may affect how consumers perceive a product or a label, which may in turn affect their dietary choices”, says the FDA.
“FDA does not encourage the addition of nutrients to certain food products including sugars or snack foods such as cookies, candies, and carbonated beverages. FDA is interested in studying whether fortification of these foods could cause consumers to believe that substituting fortified snack foods for more nutritious foods would ensure a nutritionally sound diet.”
Consumers will be asked what they think about the healthfulness of mocked up cookies, soda and candies featuring expressed and implied nutrient content claims, says the FDA. Potential conditions for the study include the following:
- A mock snack product with a claim similar to ‘As much [nutrient] as a serving of [food product]’
- A mock candy with the claim ‘Good source of [nutrient]’
- A mock carbonated beverage with the claim ‘[Product name] plus [nutrient]’
Dr Marion Nestle: Food marketers know perfectly well that nutrients sell food products...
But given that the FDA has already established guidance - the ‘jelly bean rule’ - which says it does not consider it appropriate to fortify sugars, snack foods such as candies or carbonated beverages, why is it conducting new research in this area?
Commenting on the move in her FoodPolitics blog (click here ), Dr Marion Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, observes:
“I’m guessing the FDA’s new research project is a response to increasing pressure from food companies to be allowed to add nutrients to cookies, candies, and soft drinks.”
Any health or health-like claim makes people believe the product has fewer calories and is a health food
But the FDA should not bow to this pressure, she says: “Food marketers know perfectly well that nutrients sell food products... Any health or health-like claim on a food product—vitamins added, no trans fats, organic—makes people believe that the product has fewer calories and is a health food.
“The FDA has never been happy about the practice of adding nutrients to junk foods just to make them seem healthy.
“But this does not stop food manufacturers—especially soft drink manufacturers—from trying. As I keep saying, added vitamins are about marketing, not health.”
Click here for full details of the proposed study, which the FDA has just submitted to the Office of Management and Budget.