- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it is officially beginning the public process to redefine the claim "healthy" for food labeling, a definition last revisited two decades ago.
- The agency is opening the public comment period to solicit feedback on guidance for the updated definition of "healthy," per evolving nutrition recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines and the updated Nutrition Facts panel.
- Manufacturers can still use the term "healthy" as the FDA currently defines it while the agency irons out its final guidance.
Claims like "healthy," "natural" and "good source of" are meant to guide health-conscious consumers' food and beverage choices as they look at thousands of products on grocery store shelves. However, the regulatory definitions for these terms often either don't exist or aren't current with the most recent research. Manufacturers can then legally misappropriate these terms to arguably less-healthy products, and consumers are left confused as to what to buy — or believe.
The most glaring instance of this confusion was when Kind, a better-for-you snack bars brand, received a warning letter from the FDA in April 2015 demanding the company remove the term "healthy" from its packaging. FDA's reasoning was that the product's fat content exceeded regulations for use of the term "healthy." But Kind argued that the source of the healthy saturated fats was nuts, which are generally considered a healthy ingredient. FDA later rescinded its demand that Kind change its product labels and vowed to redefine the term "healthy."
Now that time has come, and the FDA couldn't be busier with efforts to define or redefine nutritional claims. The agency just closed the comment period for the term "natural" earlier this year. FDA also recently released finalized guidance for the new Nutrition Facts label, taking into account more recent research and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, which place more of an emphasis on avoiding sugars than fats.
With so much going on, it's unclear how long it will take for the agency to finally release a definition and final guidance. When that time comes, manufacturers may have to make changes to product labels and marketing strategies.