FDA Calls for Public Comment on the Term “Healthy”


The announcement comes after snacks brand KIND submitted a citizen petition requesting FDA amend its definition of “healthy,” which was last updated more than 20 years ago.

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Robyn Mackenzie

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Robyn Mackenzie

FDA announced this morning it is officially requesting public comments on how the term “healthy” should be defined for use on food labeling. The agency’s existing regulations for “healthy” claims, which critics say are not aligned with our understanding of nutritional priorities today, were last updated more than 20 years ago.

The decision to reevaluate the official definition for healthy comes after snacks brand KIND submitted a citizen petition to FDA last December urging the agency to update its “outdated” requirements. Specifically, the petition noted that the agency’s current regulations for healthy claims focus on fat, saturated, fat, sodium, and cholesterol, which can preclude foods generally considered to be good for you, such as nuts, avocados, and salmon, from being labeled as “healthy.” Meanwhile, items like some sugary cereals and low-fat toaster pastries may actually be able to carry a healthy claim under the current definition, KIND pointed out.

In its announcement, FDA cited KIND’s citizen petition as one reason why it’s revaluating the healthy definition. The move is also meant to be in line with the agency’s recently released 2016–2025 Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program’s strategic plan for issuing updated versions of nutrition labeling regulations.

In a blog post published yesterday, Douglas Balentine, PhD, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, pointed out some of the nutritional aspects that FDA is already considering in regard to the healthy definition.

“As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the healthy labeling claim stays up to date,” Balentine said. “For instance, the most recent public health recommendations now focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat. They focus on added sugars, which consumer will see on the new Nutrition Facts label. And they focus on nutrients that consumers aren’t getting enough of, like vitamin D and potassium. By updating the definition, we hope more companies will use the healthy claims as the basis for new product innovation and reformulation, providing consumers with a greater variety of ‘healthy’ choices in the marketplace.”

KIND has taken on a particularly vocal role in the healthy debate ever since FDA first sent a warning letter to the company in March 2015 over its use of the phrase “healthy and tasty” on several KIND snack bars. In May, the agency ultimately announced KIND could continue to use the term because it is a statement of “corporate philosophy,” rather than a health claim, but the saga brought a new level of public attention to the way healthy is currently defined.

In a press announcement, Daniel Lubetzky, CEO and founder of KIND, celebrated FDA’s call for public comment.

“We’re encouraged by the speed of progress within the FDA and see this as a notable milestone in our country’s journey to redefine healthy,” said Lubetzky. “The FDA has posed a number of important questions for comment, and in our continued efforts to advocate for public health, we’re actively convening experts to help provide answers grounded in current nutrition science.”

The comment period for use of the term healthy on food labeling is currently scheduled to close on January 1, 2017.


Read more:

All Eyes on FDA as Comment Period Closes for Use of the Term “Natural”

2016 FDA Warning Letters: Top Takeaways (So Far)

FDA’s NDI Guidance and GRAS Rule: Stop Fighting, and Move Forward


Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine

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