U.S – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a 30-day procedural notice on the preliminary quantitative consumer research it plans to conduct on voluntary symbols that could be used in the future to convey the nutrient content claim “healthy.”

This notice summarizes and responds to the comments the FDA received on a 60-day procedural notice issued in May 2021.

Earlier in 2021, the FDA issued a notice that it will be conducting preliminary consumer research on the use of a voluntary symbol that could be used to depict the nutrient content claim “healthy” on packaged foods.

It sought the public’s input on ways to enhance the quality, usefulness and clarity of the information to be collected.

As part of the Paperwork Reduction Act, Federal agencies are required to publish notice in the Federal Register on each proposed information collection to give the public the opportunity to comment. 

The FDA is conducting the consumer research on a potential symbol, which is intended to be a stylized representation of the nutrient content claim “healthy,”.

At the same time, it is developing a proposed rule that would update when manufacturers may use the “healthy” nutrient content claim on food packages. The agency intends to publish the proposed rule with the definition update soon.

Nutrient content claims are a labeling tool that explicitly or implicitly characterizes the level of a nutrient in the food. These claims can help consumers quickly gain a better understanding of the general nutrition information listed on food packages.

The update to the definition and creation of a symbol for the ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim are part of the FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS) and can help address health inequities associated with some nutrition-related chronic diseases.

Updating labeling and making it more accessible helps empower consumers. In particular, claims and symbols can help consumers better understand nutrition information and identify foods that contribute to a healthy eating pattern.

Healthy dietary patterns

Manufacturers may also reformulate products to improve their nutritional value so they can use the claim.

Current dietary guidelines focus on healthy dietary patterns and the food groups that comprise them, the type of fat in the diet rather than the total amount of fat consumed, and the amount of added sugars in the diet.

One of the goals of the NIS is to modernize claims. Claims serve as quick signals for consumers about the benefits contained in particular foods or beverages, and help consumers better understand nutrition information. Claims also can encourage companies to reformulate products to improve their nutritional value to be eligible to bear the claim.

While FDA is considering how to redefine the term “healthy” as a nutrient content claim, food manufacturers can continue to use the term “healthy” on foods that meet the current regulatory definition.

Congress has also introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021 that would, among several things, require front-of-pack labels to include health-oriented symbols related to the nutrients in the food.

This is even as a recent research conducted by Attest, a fast-scaling consumer research platform, showed that U.S. consumers are struggling to identify healthy food and beverage products.

Less than one in 10 of the 2,000 people questioned (9%) were able to pick out the bar that ranked healthiest on the Nutri-Score scale, while 13% selected the least healthy option.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended the introduction of the Nutri-Score, a front-of-pack label developed by the French national public health agency, to replace the antiquated back of packaging labeling.

The label uses color coding to give at a glance information on the nutritional quality of food and beverages, a technology already applied in countries such as the U.K. and France.

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