February 24, 2023

FDA’s proposed change to ‘healthy’ label would stretch to restaurants

Effort part of Biden Administration goal to reduce diet-related chronic diseases
Food bar
One little word can mean so much. As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes steps to redefine the term “healthy” on food labels, the Association raises concerns that the agency’s effort, if implemented in the wrong way, could create confusion throughout the food supply chain rather than better educate consumers.  

In response to the FDA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the Association specifically advises that the proposed regulation’s scope should be limited and narrow and not deem particular foods as “unhealthy” or “bad.” 

Additionally, the Association warned against regulating terms that are synonymous with the word “healthy” as that would limit restaurants’ ability to guide guests to menu items that include better-for-you options. 

The proposed rule’s vague record-keeping requirement also poses compliance challenges for businesses. The Association requested flexibility with documentation rather than mandating the use of a specific form or document.  

To be deemed “healthy” under the proposed change, a food product would need to contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein foods) recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The existing definition of “healthy” has limits for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and to qualify, foods must also provide at least 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber. 

Part of a broader public health initiative set by the Biden Administration to decrease the prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases, the FDA last focused on the nutrient content claim “healthy” in 1994. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly $173B is spent per year on health care for obesity.  

After reviewing stakeholder comments, the FDA will likely issue a final rule that will include a compliance period.