Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on FDA’s new steps to advance health through improvements in nutrition under the agency’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy
Making healthy choices about diets can have a significant impact on America’s health. When we think about advancing health and reducing the death and disability caused by disease, we often think about our investments in new technology and developing the next breakthrough drug. But the cumulative effect of making smart decisions every day about our diets, when spread over a population, can dwarf the impact of any single new medical product. The most significant impacts against disease are probably going to come from our focus on the public health basics – reducing smoking rates, increasing vaccinations and improving the healthfulness of our dietary choices. When it comes to food, the FDA is going to take new steps to make sure consumers are informed about the health attributes of the foods they eat and allow manufacturers to better compete to develop options that give Americans these opportunities.
It’s incontrovertible that diet quality has a major impact on health. This is relational. We know, for example, that populations with better diet quality are shown to have better outcomes. But it’s also undeniably causal. We know that diet affects health. And we know diet is modifiable.
What we need is the policy framework that allows consumers to identify healthier options and the market forces to inspire the development of these opportunities at a cost that’s affordable.
We already know consumers increasingly seek healthier options. But our rules didn’t always allow disclosure of these features in a consistent format that let consumers easily access this information or that made it easy for food manufacturers to compete to offer these options.
That includes information that helps consumers assemble smart diets.
People don’t eat nutrients. They eat foods. And foods need to be assembled into diets that give people proper nutrition. That’s why having modern, science-based definitions around terms like “healthy,” when used on food labels, and giving careful consideration to how foods carrying these labels can be part of good diets, can help consumers make more informed decisions about their meals.
Assuring that consumers have nutrition information is a key element of the FDA’s public health mission. That’s the purpose behind our new, multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy that I announced in March.
This effort involves a series of new actions intended to modernize the FDA’s approach to nutrition, help reduce the burden of chronic disease that stems from poor nutrition, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers, and to remove barriers to industry innovation. Since the FDA regulates 80 percent of America’s food supply, we have a clear role to play in advancing policies that, in part, empower consumers with information when they’re making decisions about food.
At the same time, we’re committed to providing incentives for food manufacturers to produce healthier products. Our overall aim is preventing diseases that are attributed to poor nutrition.
Our work implementing the Innovation Strategy is aimed at extending the efforts begun with initiatives like the updated Nutrition Facts Label and defining our nutrition strategy for the next several years.
These new policy initiatives encompass several new fronts. To begin these efforts in earnest, we announced that we’re holding a public meeting on July 26 to begin an important dialogue on various aspects of the strategy with industry, nutrition experts, consumers and other interested stakeholders. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for active engagement on these issues to inform the FDA’s thinking on how to move forward efficiently in order to decrease the rate of the chronic disease and obesity-related conditions that raise health care costs, reduce productivity and shorten lifespans.
The FDA wants to empower consumers with modernized food labels that will make it easier to inform better choices while at the same time providing incentives for food manufacturers to produce the more nutritious products consumers demand. Toward these goals, our Innovation Strategy seeks ways to provide incentives for manufacturers and foster competition to create more nutritious food offerings and have clearer labeling that’s more understandable to consumers. Providing a framework for encouraging industry to compete on the nutritional attributes of their products can provide healthier choices for consumers and enable more opportunities for these healthy options to also be more affordable options.
Much of our public meeting will cover three areas of renewed focus for the FDA: First, modernizing labeling claims; second, modernizing ingredient labels; and third, modernizing standards of identity.
We’ll also be opening a docket to take public feedback on these issues to help guide our decision-making. We’re specifically interested in our implementation of our current standards of identify, whether we should be enforcing them differently and whether we should update some of those existing standards.
Identifying strategies to make food labels easier to understand is a key aspect of the FDA’s new strategy. We’ll be soliciting input at the July 26 meeting on ideas for new claims on food labels that could be easier to decipher and would encourage innovation to produce more healthful foods. One example is the definition of “healthy.” As part of our ongoing work to update the definition of “healthy” on food labels, we’ll also be soliciting input on whether adding a standard “healthy” icon could be valuable to consumers.
And we’ll also be looking for feedback on how the FDA can simplify the terminology used in ingredient lists to make labels clearer and easier to understand for consumers.
For example, manufacturers can make ingredient names more understandable by using terms like vitamin B6 instead of pyridoxine or vitamin B12 instead of cyanocobalamin.
In addition, we’re exploring ways to modernize the “standards of identity,” which are standards that mandate the ingredients for certain foods.
For example, bread, jam, juices and chocolate all have standards of identity. These standards serve an important purpose, letting consumers know what they’re buying meets a certain standard in terms of what’s in it. But it’s important that we take a fresh look at existing standards of identity in light of marketing trends and the latest nutritional science.
To take one example, the standards of identity for certain cheeses don’t always permit the use of salt substitutes, which could be used to lower the sodium content of cheese. We’ve also been asked to modernize the standard of identity for yogurt to support the innovations occurring in this food category.
We also want to know if consumers are being misled in ways that can adversely affect their dietary decisions when certain products qualify themselves with terms such as milk or rice, but are made from ingredients that don’t reflect the traditional assumptions about how products labeled that way are derived. We expect a robust dialogue on ways to modernize standards of identity to provide flexibility in the development of healthier food products, while helping to ensure that these products are named in a manner that accurately describes their constituents.
In these cases, depending on what we learn, we may step up our enforcement efforts against false or misleading labeling. In addition, if we believe consumers are being misled by the use of these terms in a way that could adversely affect their diets, we might set out a process to develop new guidance that would identify terms that might confuse consumers about a product’s ingredients or nutrients. The agency continues to seek information on these issues. For example, we need to more closely examine whether certain almond- or soy-derived products should be able to call themselves milk.
Another key part of our overall efforts is to continue our steps to modernize the Nutrition Facts label. We’ll be undertaking a comprehensive educational campaign to help Americans use the new version of the Nutrition Facts label and interpret the overall nutritional content of products they find on store shelves. We’re planning to create educational videos, social media campaigns and user-friendly websites, and we’re soliciting feedback on effective ways to help consumers learn more about the relationship between their dietary choices and the impact it can have on their health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Leveraging nutrition as a way to advance public health remains one of my top priorities as Commissioner. All of these efforts represent the broad range of work the FDA is currently conducting to create a safe and healthier food supply for American families, and to help consumers make more informed choices.
We’re committed to public engagement as we develop and implement our Nutrition Innovation Strategy. The public meeting we’re announcing today is one part of that effort. Continued input on this initiative will be key as we use the tools of diet and nutrition to advance our public health goals. With these science-based efforts, we’re committed to promoting the availability of healthy dietary choices for all Americans.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.